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Friday, May 14, 2010

UK embassy in Bangkok closes due to violence

Protester in Bangkok. Pic: 14 May
  The protesters have barricaded much of Bangkok
The British embassy in Bangkok has temporarily closed following an upsurge of violence in the Thai capital.

 Quinton Quayle, the British Ambassador to Thailand, told the BBC he was in the building and was monitoring the protests taking place nearby. 

He advised against all but essential travel to Bangkok and other areas. 

Anti-government, red-shirted protesters have been occupying parts of Bangkok since March, and a state of emergency has been called in the capital. 

Mr Quayle told the BBC that the embassy was closed to the public as the roads around the building had been blocked off.

He said: "We do have a team here in the embassy, and I'm one of them, who are monitoring the situation, providing advice to the British community, 
updating our travel advice and generally trying to follow what is a fairly unpredictable and tense situation. 

"With outbreaks of violence happening in various parts of Bangkok, it is difficult to keep track of it all." 

He advised Britons to only visit to the capital only if it essential and for those already there, to consider whether they should be travelling around in the city.

He said the embassy had been speaking to a number of honorary consuls dotted around the country about the protests but there had been no reports of "serious trouble".

BBC's Alastair Leithead
Alastair Leithead, BBC News, Bangkok

The centre of Bangkok is a no-go area. I'm on the main diplomatic street where a lot of the foreign embassies are.
A short time ago, the alarm went off in the park to mark midday and it was eerily quiet, but 10 minutes earlier there was heavy gunfire.
The troops were firing a considerable number of rounds into a park, on the other side of which the protesters have control.
There are areas of confrontation all around the centre of Bangkok. It's heavily militarised. The troops have been firing rubber bullets, tear gas and live rounds.
This road is blocked by a burnt-out bus and by a whole group of red-shirt protesters who have been shooting fireworks at the military.
The whole of this central area is being buzzed by a helicopter. We are hearing reports of someone being killed on the road nearby.
The centre of Bangkok is a very dangerous place to be.
He said that each year up to one million Britons visited the country and the violence was damaging to Thailand's reputation. 

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokeswoman told the BBC: "We will continue to monitor developments in Bangkok in order to provide British nationals with the most up-to-date information. 

"British nationals in Thailand requiring consular advice should continue to contact our embassy via the hotline which is staffed at all times." 

The embassy's hotline is on 02 305 8333 (in Thailand). 

Staff had already been offering a revised service, and the US had closed its embassy in Bangkok. 

The FCO website carries more detailed travel advice about the specific areas of Thailand to avoid. 
It says people should avoid the central Ratchaprasong area in Bangkok, where the protesters have set up camp, and stay indoors if they live there. 

It also advises: "Foreign nationals should carry their passport or some form of ID and evidence to show where they reside to gain access if they are stopped." 

British Airways said procedures had been put in place to allow customers who were set to travel either to or from Bangkok within the next seven days to easily change their plans. 


The protesters want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. 

The red-shirt barricade stretches from the city's shopping district south to its business hub. 

Andy Hornsey from Swindon told the BBC a curfew had been imposed on his hotel in the Saladaeng area and he had heard gunfire outside. 

David Fisher, a teacher from Scotland who is working in Bangkok, said he was concerned about the welfare of his friend, Nelson Rand - a journalist who was shot while covering the protests. 

But he added: "I just want to say that despite what's been happening, I still feel safe here. I feel safer in Bangkok than in London."
Thai soldiers in Bangkok
However, BBC correspondent Alastair Leithead said the city centre had turned into a "no-go" area. 

Thai security forces have stepped up efforts to tackle the protesters. During clashes two people have been killed and at least 20 wounded. 

Three journalists have been injured, while a renegade army general shot in the head on Thursday is in critical condition in hospital. 

The protesters have responded with fireworks, and on Friday some of them set fire to a police bus. 

Water and power supplies to the Red Shirt camp have been cut off as part of a concerted effort by the government to reclaim the centre of the capital.