Thai troops open fire, move in on 'red shirts'

TN News

Email Print

Thai troops fired rubber bullets at opposition "red shirts" on Saturday as they moved in to clear a protest site in Bangkok in the biggest confrontation in the month-long campaign for new elections, witnesses said.

The red shirts took their protest to the northern city of Chiang Mai, where hundreds forced their way into the governor's office compound in protest at the crackdown in Bangkok.

At least 93 people, including 22 soldiers and police, were injured in a series of clashes near the Phan Fah bridge and Rajdumnoen Road in the capital, near several government and army buildings and the regional U.N. headquarters, hospital officials said.

At least five suffered gunshot wounds, including a freelance photographer shot in the stomach, they said.

Troops fired some live rounds into the air while attempting to disperse the red shirts, but mostly they used rubber bullets, army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. He said two soldiers had received gunshot wounds.

Soldiers have also massed at the main protest site in the upmarket Rachaprasong hotel and shopping area, apparently ready to move in and disperse an estimated 8,000 red shirts, including women and children, who used taxis to barricade themselves in.

Their numbers were growing by the hour, with protest leaders rallying people to the main site, claiming safety in numbers.

At the other site, troops briefly paused after moving closer to the protesters using tear gas, warning shots in the air and smoke bombs.

"We are asking for the Phan Fah bridge area back and we are about 200 meters (from) where about 4,000 protesters are," Sansern said. A red shirt protest leader at the scene said the army was "hurting people."

"Please come out. Help us reclaim the area back or the army will kill us, red shirt brothers and sisters!" he shouted. "Do not panic. We have to stick with non-violence."

The crowd repeatedly chanted "Abhisit, get out!," referring to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who was due to address the nation in the afternoon from an army barracks that has been the government's operation center for the past month.

The red shirts had vowed that they would besiege governors' offices in the provinces if there was a crackdown on their protest in the capital for fresh elections.

About 50 police were at the scene in Chiang Mai, hometown of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the figurehead of the red shirts who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, but did not intervene.

The government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Wednesday to control the protests after red shirts broke into the grounds of parliament, forcing some officials to flee by helicopter.

"The protest is now illegal and we urge that every peace-loving person leave the restricted areas," Sansern said. "The army will not kill Thais but we have to restore law and order."

More World News