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Bloodshed continues in Bangkok, where security forces battled anti-government "Red Shirt" protesters into the night on Saturday.

Since fighting erupted Thursday in the Thai capital, 22 people have been killed and at least 170 wounded Several foreign journalists are among those hurt.

Embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a TV address late Saturday that his government will not back down against the protesters. The government's plan, he said, is to return to "normalcy" with "minimal loss," as soon as possible.

Witnesses saw three bodies with gunshot wounds being taken away just north of the protesters' encampment, where government posters declare the area is a "live-firing zone."

Earlier Saturday, Red Shirt protesters took over a major highway intersection on the outskirts of Bangkok.

On Saturday, the U.S. State Department issued a warning that American citizens not travel to Bangkok, and to refrain from any non-essential travel to the rest of the country. The State Department has also authorized the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from the Thai capital.


The protesters' leader, Jatuporn Prompan, says the situation in the Thai capital is like a "civil war," but he vowed that demonstrations and resistance to any crackdown will continue until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resigns.

The Red Shirts contend Mr. Abhisit's government is illegitimate and should step down to allow new elections.

Protesters have occupied Bangkok's central commercial district since mid-March, forcing hotels and businesses to shut down.

Clashes between security forces and protesters intensified this week after a renegade general aligned with the Red Shirts was shot and seriously wounded, apparently by a sniper.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other world powers have called for an end to the violence. Mr. Ban said he "strongly encourages" both sides to return to dialogue in order to de-escalate the situation.

The protesters come from both rural and urban areas, and most of them have low incomes. They support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is living in exile.

The Red Shirts say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government was installed illegitimately after a court forced a pro-Thaksin government to dissolve.

Mr. Abhisit made a "final" offer last week to dissolve parliament and hold new elections in November (11/14), more than a year ahead of schedule. The Red Shirts ejected his proposal.

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