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Thailand to prosecute protest leaders

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: At least 44 people killed in clashes last several weeks, government officials say
  • NEW: Six dead bodies at Wat Patumwanaram Temple
  • NEW: A dozen buildings including Thailand's biggest shopping mall set ablaze
  • NEW: Ten anti-government protest leaders taken into custody

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Many streets in Bangkok were eerily calm Thursday, a day after the city devolved into deadly clashes between protesters and government forces.

Government officials extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew for 24 provinces until Sunday in the hopes that their successful crackdown on protesters would sustain.

"We are confident that in the next few days peace and civility will return to Thailand," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a government spokesman.

The spokesman said the government would quickly move to prosecute the Red Shirt protesters that were arrested during the riots.

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Video: Curfew extention in Thailand
Video: Bangkok scenes from iReporters
Video: Downtown Bangkok a war zone

"We understand their frustration, but the violence that went on last night was beyond frustration. It was organized crime," the spokesman said.

On Wednesday the army surged into Lumpini Park, the area where Red Shirt demonstrators had amassed.

iReport: Video sparks discussion

After hours of intense street battles, seven anti-government protest leaders were taken into custody. Three more turned themselves in Thursday. Red Shirt leaders called off the protest, but it seemed as though many did not heed the call.

By Friday, however, three more Red Shirt leaders turned themselves in.

As a result of smaller riots that erupted throughout the city, a dozen buildings -- including a bank, a police station, a local television station and Thailand's biggest shopping mall -- were set ablaze.

iReport: Army running away

In all 34 buildings were torched, the government spokesman said Wednesday.

Timeline of Thailand's political crisis

At least 44 people have been killed in clashes in the last several weeks, and nearly 400 people were injured, government officials said.

That death toll could rise as people begin to sift through areas of Bangkok that had been badly damaged.

What are the protests about?

"We are confident that in the next few days peace and civility will return to Thailand
--Panitan Wattanayagorn, a government spokesman

Wat Patumwanaram Temple, a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, had been a haven for thousands of protesters early in the week. But Thursday there were a few people there, and also six dead bodies could be seen.

Parts of Bangkok seemed like a ghost town Thursday, witnesses said.

Aftermath: 'Not the Thailand we know anymore'

"It's not that busy or so crowded like the normal Bangkok," said Rujira Jeawskun, 22, who works for a travel firm in the city. "I just feel so sad. How can people who are asking for democracy burn our country like that?"

Bangkok residents: 'This is a mini-civil war'

The Red Shirt opposition members support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless 2006 military coup. They had been protesting for weeks, demanding that the current prime minister dissolve parliament and call new elections.

From his self-imposed exile abroad to avoid a trial on corruption charges, Thaksin released a statement Wednesday saying that he was not the leader of the United Front for Democracy, the formal name of the Red Shirt opposition, and that their movement calling for new elections is not on his behalf.

CNN's Dan Rivers, Sara Sidner and Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report.

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Thaksin: I am not Red Shirt leader
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he was not the leader of the Red Shirts
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The crisis follows a standoff between the government and protesters who support Thaksin Shinawatra
Timeline: Thailand's political crisis
The violent clashes in Bangkok follows years of political instability and unrest in Thailand.
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