Thailand was in turmoil on Sunday after 19 people died in fighting between anti-government protesters and the military on the blood-splattered streets of the capital.
Red Shirt protesters called on the country’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej to intervene in the month-long crisis early on Sunday, saying it was the “way to prevent further dead”.
DFAT is warning Australians to exercise a high degree of caution.
“Did anybody inform the king that his children were killed in the middle of the road without justice?” Reds’ leader Jatuporn Prompan asked protesters. “Is there anyone close to him who told him of the gunfights?”
Thai security forces fought street battles with protesters in the heart of Bangkok on Saturday, leaving 19 dead and hundreds injured in the country’s bloodiest political violence in almost two decades.
Although he has no official political role, the hospitalised king is seen as a unifying figure.
During an 1992 uprising he chastised both the military and protest leaders, effectively
bringing the violence to an end.
A Japanese cameraman with the Reuters news agency was among those killed as the army cracked down on supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, following almost a month of demonstrations.
The Reds hurled rocks as troops tried to clear one of two protest sites in the capital with tear gas as gunshots echoed around the city. The dead included 11 civilians and four soldiers.
Almost 700 people were hurt.
Army calls for truce
The army later retreated, calling for a truce with the demonstrators, who were holding five soldiers hostage. Thousands of demonstrators were also refusing to leave another rally site.
Riot shields and pools of blood were left scattered near the city’s famous Khaosan Road backpacker district.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva offered his condolences but refused the protesters’ calls to resign.
“I and my government will continue to work to resolve the situation,” he said in a televised address to the nation.
It was the country’s worst political clashes since 1992 as the White House called for “restraint by both protesters and security forces”.
The mostly poor, rural Reds say the government is illegitimate as it came to power with military backing in 2008 after a court ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.
Abhisit invoked emergency rule on Wednesday after the Reds stormed parliament, prompting lawmakers to flee. The embattled premier has insisted he will not cede to the Reds’ demand and call elections.
Tens of thousands of police and soldiers were mobilised to restore order, provoking an angry response from the red-clad movement.
It was the latest chapter in years of political turmoil in Thailand pitting Bangkok’s ruling elite against the mainly working class Reds.
The country has been riven by political tensions since a bloodless coup ousted premier Thaksin in 2006.