Final: The army continues to move in

14 05 2010

Facing considerable resistance, huge numbers of troops continue to surround the red shirt protest zone at Rajaprasong. They are gradually moving in on the protesters but are reportedly meeting considerable but sporadic resistance. Some useful reporting is as The Thai Report.

Meanwhile, the yellow-shirt media cheers the assassination attempt on Seh Daeng, asking why it took so long to get him, and to urge the government on to crush the red shirts. 2Bangkok.com suggests that the bid to kill Seh Daeng is army revenge (scroll down to Colonel Romklao’s revenge – May 14, 2010).

Bangkok Pundit has some recent news reports and tweets from reporters who are still seeing and hearing sporadic gunfire.

SkyNews reports that at least three foreign journalists have been shot and wounded. It names one of them as being Nelson Rand from France 24 television. This link includes a brief report on events in Bangkok. The Nation reports that a Matichon photographer – named as Jo Subin – was shot and wounded.

The Nation also reports that clashes continue: “Troops clashed with protesters at the Rajprarop security checkpoint Friday afternoon. Protesters tried to ambush troops at the Rajprarop barricade at 2:15 pm, leading to an exchange of gunfire. The sounds of gunfire prompted reporters and photographers to run for cover around building corners.”

James Hookway in the Wall Street Journal has a longer report on Friday’s continuing troubles: “Antigovernment protesters in Bangkok pushed back against police and army efforts to pin them down in the center of Thailand’s capital Friday, setting fire to a police bus and beefing up the improvised fortifications around their camp as violent clashes continued from the night before. Troops responded by firing bullets and tear gas at protesters attempting to turn the area into a war zone. It wasn’t immediately clear if the soldiers were using live ammunition, but they had previously been authorized to do so by army commanders who say ‘terrorists’ are operating within the demonstrators’ ranks.” It seems clear that live ammunition is being used (see comments above on wounded journalists).

Britain’s The Sun raises the prospect of civil war.

Yesterday, PPT suggested that the government side would deny involvement in the assassination bid against Seh Daeng. It didn’t take long. ChannelNewsAsia reports that Colonel Dithaporn Sasasmit, the spokesman for the army-run Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) has denied army involvement. The fact that CRES stated that snipers were deployed and the reports of yellow media (see above) seems to throw doubt on the denials. CRES spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd also denies. AP reports he says: “It has nothing to do with the military. It has never been our policy (to assassinate). We have been avoiding violence…”. So why the snipers despatched to rooftops yesterday? Snipers are used for just one purpose. See Thailand’s Troubles on the assassination bid.

Useful Asian Correspondent video:

AP reports that “troops fired bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters rioting near the U.S. and Japanese embassies Friday as an army push to clear the streets sparked bloody clashes and turned central Bangkok into a virtual war zone.” It added that “Friday’s violence was centered on a small area home to several foreign embassies. Soldiers crouched behind a raised road divider and fired rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas shells. Army vehicles were seen speeding on deserted streets littered with stones and debris. Protesters retreated and hurled rocks and insults.”

The BBC has a recent report (1004GMT) on continuing urban warfare in Bangkok, with video. Worth viewing. The report shows troops firing weapons into what appears to be Lumpini Park and states that troops are stopping and searching ambulances (recall when the red shirts copped huge criticism for doing this? PPT expects nothing to be said about this when the government forces do it).

Colonel Sansern is cited in a SkyNews report as saying that clashes with red shirts at the Suan Lum night market occured when the former tried “to stop soldiers moving towards their main camp in central Bangkok.” He claimed that about 2,000 red shirts “intimidated authorities with weapons” so there was “an order was given to disperse them.” This is Sansern speak for opening fire.

Brian McCarten at Asia Times Online says that clashes on Friday “became much more serious as troops clashed with the protesters, firing rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas in an attempt to seal off their [the red shirt] encampment…”. He adds that casualties are mounting: “the death of one demonstrator, [and] around 30 people, including Seh Daeng, were injured during Thursday night’s violence.” [Erawan Emergency Center reports casualty update: 22 injured (4 in ICU), one dead. Among them, 1 Canadian and 1 Burmese.]

McCarten also reports that some red shirts appear to be armed. PPT doesn’t quite understand the media’s fascination with revealing that some protesters are armed.  And, according to this report, some protesters are not hiding this fact from the media. Clearly, while the vast bulk of protesters are unarmed or are fighting with rudimentary weapons (including rocks and slingshots), there are clearly some armed protesters. Thailand is a violent society and weapons are widely available, so it would seem logical to assume that some red shirts will have armed themselves for what they see as a final clash at Rajaprasong.

BBC reports (1122GMT)  “Redshirt spokesman Sean Boonpracong, saying there were ’40 companies of troops firing teargas, rubber bullets, as well as live ammunition’ who had converged on the area.”

This reporting is all based on tweets from journalists: At 1220-1230GMT, clashes are reported to be continuing, apparently in an expanded area, but still focused around Rajaprasong/Lumpini. Reporters have been warned to identify themselves with green arm bands but also to stay away from clashes as the military cannot guarantee that they won’t get shot. Shooting has erupted at Suan Phlu, Rajaprarop and Din Daeng with further reports of deaths and woundings.

At 1240GMT it is reported that tear gas has been fired into the Rajaprasong area and that explosions (tear gas canisters) have been heard near the main red shirt stage. Explosions also reported at Saladaeng.

NPR reports: “The situation seems to grow more dangerous by the hour in Bangkok, where thousand of anti-government “red-shirt” protesters and authorities are facing off.” A tweet at 1255GMT says “all hell breaking loose” at Saladaeng. Large numbers of trooops gathered in Sukhumvit.

MCOT Twitters that “Health Minister: Taxi driver confirmed dead, 37 persons including 3 journalists wounded in day-long clashes between troops and Red Shirts.” As this appears, another red shirt is reported dead.

Armored vehicles and ambulances are said to be moving into Saladaeng area. MCOT (see above for link) twitters that “Army mobilises armoured vehicles to Sala Daeng intersection for operation to retake area, a burst of gunshots heard continuously.”

Useful video of troops in action, firing live rounds at Guardian site.

At 1340GMT there’s an iunconfirmed report of an attack on the red shirt stage including an attempt to assassinate red shirt leaders. Report is of one woman shot by sniper.

Bangkok Post confirms blast at Rajaprasong: “A bomb exploded in the middle of the anti-government rally at Ratchaprasong commercial district on Friday evening. At least 15 people were injured from the blast. Reports said the explosion occurred at 6.20pm at the protest venue in Bangkok’s main shopping district. The blast caused people to scatter and hide at nearby areas.
Leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) had to jump down from the stage and told their supporters to protect themselves by lying on the floor.”

Explosions also reported at Saladaeng. <a href=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/05/bullets_fly_in_bangkok_as_thai.html&#8221; target=”_blank”>NPR</a> reports: “The situation seems to grow more dangerous by the hour in Bangkok, where thousand of anti-government “red-shirt” protesters and authorities are facing off.” A tweet at 1255GMT says “all hell breaking loose” at Saladaeng. Large numbers of trooops gathered in Sukhumvit.

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