Rioting and fires swept Bangkok yesterday after troops stormed a protest encampment, forcing anti-government protest leaders to surrender but triggering clashes that killed at least six and led to unrest in the north.


The government extended an overnight curfew in Bangkok to 24 provinces — nearly one-third of the total. Unrest spread to seven provinces, and town halls were burned in three northern areas, strongholds of anti-government activists.


Red Shirt protesters earlier set at least 27 buildings ablaze in the capital, including the Thai stock exchange and at least 16 bank branches. Central World, southeast Asia’s second-biggest department store complex, was gutted by fire and looked as if it might collapse, a Reuters witness said.


The unrest is the “most widespread and most uncontrollable” political violence Thailand has ever seen, said political historian Charnvit Kasetsiri. It is exactly 18 years since a major bout of unrest known as “Black May.”


“I am confident and determined to end the problems and return the country to peace and order once again,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a televised address last night.

It was unclear whether the continued rioting, after the surrender of the protest leaders, was a final flurry of anti-government action or the start of more intense, widespread fighting.

An overnight curfew was imposed on Bangkok and later extended to 24 provinces, and security forces were authorized to shoot looters and arsonists.