Military lockdown of rally site sparks clashes
BANGKOK: Seven people died and more than 100 were injured in clashes on Friday between Thai troops and “Red Shirt” anti-government protesters in Bangkok, emergency services reported.
Six men and one woman were killed in the violence, which also left 101 people wounded, according to the official Erawan emergency centre.
Thai troops opened fire on protesters on Friday after a military lockdown of a vast rally site in the heart of the capital sparked fierce clashes.
Security forces moved to regain control of a road close to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, a popular spot with tourists, after “Red Shirt” demonstrators spilled out of their fortified rally base, which was under siege by troops.
The protesters, who are trying to bring down the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, threw stones, used slingshots and launched fireworks at the troops.
Three journalists, one of them a Canadian with the France 24 television channel, were shot and wounded while covering the violence.
Soldiers used tear gas against the demonstrators, who set fire to piles of tyres in the road, torched an empty police bus and vandalised army vehicles as well as using a water cannon in their efforts to disrupt the lockdown.
Volleys of gunfire rang out through the afternoon, sending people fleeing in panic. At one point troops fired directly at protesters and then advanced up a road, shooting into the air, according to an AFP reporter.
Nelson Rand, a veteran reporter who was covering fighting between troops and protesters for France 24, was hit by three bullets from a military assault rifle and “gravely wounded,” his network reported.
Series of confrontations
At least 35 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured in Bangkok in a series of confrontations and attacks since the protests began in mid-March.
The mood was tense inside the encampment, which has been fortified with razor wire, truck tyres doused with kerosene and sharpened bamboo poles.
“Abhisit has already started civil war,” top Red Shirt Nattawut Saikuar told reporters.
“We urgently demand the government withdraw the military and stop all violence,” he said.
“I don't know how we can survive tonight if Abhisit does not agree to a ceasefire. We hope that Abhisit does not want war.”
Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon said the military operation was meant to force the movement's leaders back to talks with the government.
Around the protest area, which extends for several square kilometres, soldiers blocked roads and set up checkpoints to seal off the site. The city's elevated Skytrain was suspended before nightfall. — AFP