Thai troops open fire on protesters in Bangkok

(Timesonline/UK) – Anarchy reigned in parts of Bangkok this morning following the Thai military’s pre-dawn raid on anti-government protesters who had blockaded parts of the city.

Anti-government protesters face off with an advancing line of Thai army soldiers

(Narong Sangnak/EPA)

The main junction in Bangkok where the protesters built up a barricade

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Thai soldiers in full combat kit used tear gas and fired automatic weapons to clear the red-shirt protesters from the Din Daeng intersection near the Victory Monument in central Bangkok, injuring at least 70 people. Nineteen people were admitted to hospital, four – including two soldiers and two civilians – had gunshot wounds.

As the sun rose, bewildered tourists watched as a small crew of the protesters still ensconced at the intersection hurled bottled petrol bombs, set fire to car tyres, and manoeuvred commandeered public buses around the streets.

Scores of helmeted Thai soldiers armed with automatic weapons and carrying riot shields faced off against the protesters, preventing them from re-taking the intersection, but also effectively blocking all traffic.

Thick black smoke billowed from small fires set around the cross-roads, as the soldiers loudly loaded their weapons. At the Century Park Hotel, right on the intersection, tourists looked on as the protesters screamed imprecations into a megaphone, metres from where they stood.

Meike and Horst Pfaff, from Frankfurt, had hoped to enjoy the last day of their Thai holiday before returning to Germany. This morning they stood in the hotel’s forecourt, wondering whether to venture forth. “I think you have to keep out of it, and then you don’t have to worry,” said Mrs Pfaff, an optometrist.

Mr Pfaff, an electrician by trade, told The Times that he and his wife had wanted to use Bangkok’s famous sky train to see the city, but the way to the station would take them in front of a line of Thai soldiers with weapons ominously pointed towards them.

A second round of clashes erupted at lunchtime at the Victory Monument landmark where protesters set fire to hijacked buses, but as soldiers advanced with water cannons, the demonstrators drove another three buses at the lines of military, prompting them to open fire for several minutes.

Today’s battles marked a further increase in the tensions of recent days that have already seen the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s car furiously attacked, and buses commandeered to blockade streets all over the city.

In a televised address earlier today, Mr Abhisit accused the supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of stockpiling weapons and warned peaceful demonstrators to disperse before the government took further action.

“Those who want to help the government restore normality can return home,” he said. “The government has carefully mapped out a plan to implement the law.”

Now the red-shirts have revenge on their minds, after dozens of their number were wounded in this morning’s raid, and, they claim, at least three were killed. Phootawan Phetrasathian, carrying a Thai flag over his shoulder, was furious. “Thai soldiers killed people last night, at three in the morning,” he told The Times. “It was nearby, on Din Daeng road. We want the army to leave. We want Abhisit to get out. He’s no good. His ministers are no good.”

During his television address Mr Abhisit denied the claims that protesters had been killed, saying that 70 people were wounded, 23 of them soldiers.

Mr Phootawan, who is usually employed selling coffee from a trolley, said the soldiers’ M16s and Uzis did not scare him. “I don’t have anything, only two hands and two legs, but I’m not afraid.”

Protesters clambered over tanks sent to keep the peace, and joined a swelling rally near Government House, an ornate building usually used as the prime minister’s offices. A police spokesman estimated there were 30,000 protesters in various points around Bangkok.

The Thai government on Sunday declared a state of emergency, but it has been roundly ignored by thousands of protesters who continue to besiege Government House and blockade various streets.

The red-shirts support ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and they demand the dissolution of the current government and new elections. They claim Mr Abhisit’s four-month rule is illegitimate, and they accuse the nation’s elite, the military, the judiciary and other officials – of undermining democracy and interfering in politics.

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