May 17, 2010 in Nation/World

Rogue Thai general’s death may spark more violence

Government rejects talks with protesters
Denis D. Gray Associated Press
Associated Press photos photo

Protesters ignite tires in front of a standoff with Thai military in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

BANGKOK, Thailand – A rogue Thai general who helped anti-government protesters and was shot by an unidentified sniper died today from his wounds, raising fears of new violence after five days of street battles that have killed 36 people in downtown Bangkok.

The death of Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, a renegade army officer accused of creating a paramilitary force for the Red Shirt protesters, came four days after he was shot in the head by a sniper in downtown Bangkok while talking to journalists inside the perimeter of the protest zone.

The attack on Khattiya, more popularly known as Seh Daeng, triggered widespread street fighting between anti-government protesters and the army in central Bangkok.

“Seh Daeng has accomplished his duty. All of us here have the duty to carry on the quest for justice,” said Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader. He said the only hope now to end the violence was intervention by Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The 82-year-old monarch, hospitalized since September, has remained publicly silent on the crisis, unlike decades past when he stepped in to stop bloodshed.

The Red Shirts have been protesting since mid-March demanding the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the dissolution of Parliament and new elections.

Anti-government unrest that has boiled over in downtown Bangkok spread Sunday to other areas of the capital. The Thai military has defended its use of force, and the government flatly rejected protesters’ demands that the United Nations intercede to end the chaos.

Rapid gunfire and explosions echoed before dawn today outside luxury hotels bordering the barricaded protest zone, where the military has attempted to seal in thousands of demonstrators camping in the downtown streets. Guests at the upscale Dusit Thani hotel were rushed to the basement for safety, and the management asked all guests to check out by noon.

Reporters at the scene said the gunfire came both from government forces and protesters holed up inside the encampment who appear to have stockpiled a sizable arsenal of weapons.

Leaders of the protesters said they wanted talks mediated by the U.N., provided the government agreed to an immediate cease-fire and pulled its troops back.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, however, said a pause was unnecessary since troops were “not using weapons to crack down on civilians.” The government maintains it is targeting only armed “terrorists” among the demonstrators.

Authorities insisted they would continue the crackdown aimed at choking off the Red Shirts, who have occupied a 1-square-mile protest zone – barricaded by tires and bamboo spikes – in one of Bangkok’s ritziest areas since early April.

The political conflict is Thailand’s deadliest and most prolonged in decades, and each passing day of violence deepens divides in this nation of 65 million – a key U.S. ally and Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

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