10 people are killed in clashes as Thai troops try to contain demonstrators

Days after the Thai military launched an offensive to evict anti-government protesters from central Bangkok, the focus turns to cleanup and recovery.
By Tim Johnston
Saturday, May 15, 2010

BANGKOK -- Thai troops and anti-government protesters clashed in the streets of central Bangkok on Friday, leaving 10 people dead and 125 injured as security forces attempted to isolate a sprawling encampment of "red shirt" demonstrators.

The violence, which erupted Thursday night, continued through the day Friday. Soldiers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to prevent defiant protesters from moving outside their base.

Protesters hurled rocks, launched homemade rockets, set fire to a police bus and piles of tires, and captured and vandalized two military water-cannon trucks at a key business-district intersection just outside their encampment. There were reports that government forces were injured in grenade attacks launched from the demonstrators' side.

"The purpose was to secure the outer areas of the demonstration, tightening up control of the inflow of demonstrators, supplies and logistics," Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said Friday evening. "But once they had done that, a number of guards started to attack their checkpoints, and things started to become chaotic."

As night fell, sporadic bursts of gunfire and explosions could still be heard on the southeastern perimeter of the area occupied by the demonstrators, near the U.S. and Japanese embassies. Local television reported that a nearby shopping center and elevated-rail station were hit by grenades, according to the Associated Press.

Several embassies closed Friday, including the U.S., Japanese and British missions.

Since the protesters began camping out in the capital in March in a bid to force the government's resignation, at least 34 people have been killed and more than 800 injured in sporadic clashes between the protesters and security forces. The worst violence erupted April 10, when 25 people were killed.

As the encampment swelled to about 10,000 demonstrators, including women and children, the continuing demonstrations threatened Thailand's vital tourism industry.

The red shirts' camp is now effectively cut off from the rest of the capital. Authorities have yet to follow through fully on their threat to cut power and water to the area, but Panitan, the government spokesman, said security measures would be stepped up.

"In the next few days, there could be attempts by people with ill intentions to create instability in Bangkok," he warned.

The government's containment operation got off to a bloody start Thursday evening when Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, a renegade army officer whom the prime minister once described as the greatest obstacle to peace, was shot in the head, the apparent victim of a sniper's bullet.

On Friday, Khattiya remained in a coma. The government has denied involvement in his shooting, but many protesters remain skeptical.

"This isn't dispersal. It's assassination," said Karkaew Pikulthong, a protest leader. "They aimed to kill."

Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who is the godfather of the protest movement, called Friday for renewed negotiations. The demonstrators have been demanding the immediate resignation of Abhisit, whose government they say lacks legitimacy. Abhisit came to power 16 months ago in a controversial parliamentary vote in which he succeeded Thaksin's brother-in-law as prime minister.

Abhisit offered to hold new elections on Nov. 14, but the red shirts then set a series of conditions that proved too much for the prime minister. He rescinded his offer and ordered the security operation.

-- Financial Times

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