| GEO World|
| Thai troops open fire, move in on "red shirts"|
| Updated at: 1526 PST, Saturday, April 10, 2010|
BANGKOK: Thai troops fired rubber bullets at opposition "red shirts" on Saturday as they moved into clear a protest site in the biggest confrontation in the month-long campaign for new elections, witnesses said.
At least 93 people, including 22 soldiers and police, were injured in a series of clashes near the Phan Fah bridge and Rajdumnoen Road, near several government and army buildings and the regional U.N. headquarters, hospital officials said.
At least five suffered gunshot wounds, including a freelance photographer shot in the stomach, hospital officials said.
Troops were given orders to "reclaim" the area three days after a state of emergency was declared.
Soldiers have also massed at the main protest site in the upmarket Rachaprasong hotel and shopping area, apparently ready to move in and disperse an estimated 8,000 red shirts, including women and children, who used taxis to barricade themselves in.
The numbers were growing by the hour, with protest leaders rallying people to the main site, claiming safety in numbers.
"We are asking for the Phan Fah bridge area back and we are about 200 metres to the main stage where about 4,000 protesters are," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.
He said the troops had been chasing protesters down Rajdumnoen Road and using tear gas, warning shots into the air and smoke bombs.
"We will keep moving down the road and will remove the main stage at the rally site," he said.
On the stage, a red shirt protest leader said the army was "hurting people".
"Please come out. Help us reclaim the area back or the army will kill us, red shirt brothers and sisters!" he said. "Do not panic. We have to stick with non-violence."
The crowd repeatedly chanted "Abhisit, get out!", referring to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who was due to address the nation in the afternoon from an army barracks that has been the government's operation centre for the past month.
The government declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to control the protests after red shirts broke into the grounds of parliament, forcing some officials to flee by helicopter.
"The protest is now illegal and we urge that every peace-loving person leave the restricted areas," Sansern said. "The army will not kill Thais but we have to restore law and order."