Thai troops, protesters clash in capital; 8 killed
Thai troops opened fire on "Red Shirt" protesters that killed eight people.
Bangkok: Thai troops fired bullets at anti-government protesters, and explosions thundered in the heart of Bangkok on Friday as an army push to clear the streets and end a two-month political standoff sparked clashes that have killed eight and wounded 101.
As night fell, booming explosions and the sound of gunfire rattled around major intersections in the central business district. Local TV reported that several grenades hit a shopping center and elevated-rail station. Plumes of black smoke hung over the neighborhood as tires burned in eerily empty streets while onlookers ducked for cover.
With security deteriorating and hopes of a peaceful resolution to the standoff increasingly unlikely, what was once one of Southeast Asia`s most stable democracies and magnets of foreign investment has been thrust deep into political uncertainty. The crisis threatens its stability, economy and already-decimated tourism industry.
Violence escalated after a rogue army general regarded as a military adviser to the Red Shirt protesters was shot in the head Thursday evening, possibly by a sniper. A doctor said Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol was still in a coma Friday and he could "die at any moment."
Clashes since then have killed eight and wounded 101, officials said. Among those wounded were two Thai journalists and a Canadian reporter, who was in a serious condition.
"We are being surrounded. We are being crushed. The soldiers are closing in on us. This is not a civil war yet, but it`s very, very cruel," Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, said to a news agency.
Fighting has now killed 37 people and injured hundreds since the Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, began camping in the capital on March 12, in a bid to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They claim his coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, which in 2006 forced the populist premier favored by the Red Shirts, Thaksin Shinawatra, from office in a coup.
Last week, Abhisit offered November elections, raising hopes that a compromise could be reached with the Red Shirts, who have been demanding immediate elections. Those hopes were dashed after Red Shirt leaders made more demands.
Late Thursday, the army moved to seal off the Red Shirt encampment in an upscale commercial district of the capital. Some 10,000 protesters, women and children among them, have crammed into the area.
"Our policy is not to disperse the protesters," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said late Friday. He said their mission was to set up checkpoints and "tighten" the area around the protest, but "there have been attempts to agitate the officers."