By Mail Foreign Service
Escape: Arisman Pongruangrong is lowered down to waiting supporters from a Bangkok hotel after security forces tried to arrest him
An anti-government protest leader made a dramatic escape from the roof of a hotel after Thai security forces had surrounded it this morning.
In the latest blow to the Thai government, Arisman Pongruangrong managed to evade arrest after being lowered to the ground by rope to waiting supporters below.
The government had announced on national television 30 minutes before his escape that security officers were surrounding the hotel to arrest Mr Pongruangrong and other 'red-shirt' leaders holed up inside.
Authorities have tried without success to end a month-long sit-in by thousands of protesters in some of Bangkok's most popular shopping and tourist districts.
At least 24 people were killed last week when troops tried to clear one group of protesters.
The failed arrests are another signal that the government is willing to risk further confontation with the red shirt protesters, who are campaigning to oust Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, dissolve Parliament and hold new elections.
Mr Pongruangrong, a charismatic pop-singer-turned-activist, said after his escape: 'From now on your mission is to hunt down Abhisit... this is war between the government and the Red Shirts.'
The protest leader is wanted by police for leading an invasion of the Parliament building by hundreds of supporters on April 7 which forced politicians to climb a back wall to escape.
He also led the storming of a summit last year in the beach resort of Pattaya which forced the conference to be cancelled.
Clashes: The red shirt protesters are calling for new elections and have occupied parts of Bangkok over the last few weeks
Fled: The Thai government had announced on national television that they had surrounded the hotel to arrest several red shirt leaders
With the rope looped around his waist, a visibly nervous Mr Pongruangrong slid down from a third-storey ledge of the hotel into a waiting crowd of cheering supporters.
He clambered on top of a van to give a short speech to announce the red shirts had seized two police officers as hostages to ensure his safety.
He said: 'I would like to thank all of the people who saved me - you have helped save democracy.'
A second red shirt leader was seen climbing out of a hotel window and down a tree. It is unknown if he escaped.
Thousands of red shirts, mostly from rural areas, have congregated in Bangkok since March 12.
Clashes on Saturday left 24 people dead and more than 800 injured in the worst political violence in nearly two decades.
Earlier today, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban accused 'terrorist elements' of infiltrating the red shirt organisation to orchestrate Saturday's violence.
He said: 'The terrorists within the demonstrators used war weapons.
'I would like to ask innocent protesters to leave the demonstration area, in order to avoid being used as human shields.
'The government from now on would like to carry out decisive legal measures against the red shirt leaders.'