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Thailand protests: A battle with no clear victors

Analysis: What does this week's chaos in Bangkok mean?

A man stands in front of a burning bus during clashes between Thai soldiers and anti-government protesters in Bangkok's financial district May 14, 2010. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

BANGKOK, Thailand — Just one week ago, the political strife crippling Bangkok was poised to end.

But Friday, the city’s main thoroughfares were lit by burning tires. Masked men in motorbike helmets yanked soldiers from trucks. Ambulances idled outside conflict zones, waiting for the next protesters to fall dead from live rounds. More than 37 have died and well over 1,000 have suffered injuries.

Here's a taste of what parts of Bangkok looked like Friday night:

A proposed settlement between protesters known as “Red Shirts” and the military-backed Thai government has now completely broken down. As both sides take casualties, it appears impossible for either to emerge with a clear victory.

Pressure has mounted in recent weeks against Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva — not only from protesters, but from urban Thais eager to see them pushed out by force.

The premier has maneuvered for a political resolution — offering to hold early elections more than a year ahead of his term’s end — but has stopped short of answering all of the Red Shirts’ demands. They have vowed to fight on until he and his deputy are held criminally responsible for April army raids that left protesters dead.

Even as core Red Shirt leaders lambaste Abhisit as a “tyrannical murderer,” there is a parallel perception among many that the premier is too gutless to go hard on protesters.

“Clearly, people in Bangkok are fed up,” said David Tuck, head researcher for the Spectrum OSO Asia risk intelligence firm in Bangkok.