BANGKOK – Fresh violence erupted in the Thai capital today after a government attempt to blockade anti-government protesters and an assassination attempt on a rogue general supporting them triggered nightlong street clashes that killed one person.
The violence, which so far has claimed 30 lives and injured hundreds, plunged Thailand deeper into political uncertainty, with both sides hardening their positions.
Gunshots rang out throughout the night and into the morning in central Bangkok. At daybreak, a group of protesters captured and vandalized two military water cannon trucks at the intersection of Sathorn and Rama IV roads in the heart of the business district. They ripped the cannon from its moorings and used its plastic barrel to shoot firecrackers from behind a sandbag bunker they had commandeered from soldiers.
The so-called Red Shirt protesters, who have taken over an upscale 1-square-mile area in central Bangkok, vowed they will not give up until the government resigns and early elections are called.
“I’m not scared. We are here only to ask for democracy. Why are we facing violence?” Mukda Saelim, 39, a mushroom farmer from Chonburi province, said. “I don’t have anything to fight them, but I’m not afraid. You asked if this is safe? It’s not.”
The Red Shirts believe Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military. They are demanding he dissolve Parliament immediately and call new elections.
Chances of a compromise dimmed further after renegade army Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who is accused of creating a paramilitary force for the Red Shirts, was shot in the head Thursday evening. He was talking to reporters just inside the perimeter of the protesters’ encampment in Saladeng when the bullet hit him.
He was taken to a hospital in a coma and was in critical condition. The hospital said his brain had swollen and he was unlikely to survive.
It was not known who shot Khattiya, better known by the nickname Seh Daeng. But the Red Shirts blamed the government.
“This is illegal use of force ordered by Abhisit Vejjajiva,” said Arisman Pongruengrong, a Red Shirt leader. “It is clear that there were no clashes at Saladeng, but Seh Daeng was shot by a government sniper. This is clearly a use of war weapons on the people.”