A Thai soldier was shot dead and at least ten people were injured Wednesday during clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the outskirts of Bangkok.
AFP - Thai troops opened fire on "Red Shirt" protesters Wednesday during a tense confrontation on a highway in Bangkok's northern suburbs that left one soldier dead and 18 people injured.
The army said it had used real bullets in the latest standoff in the capital, where 27 people have died and almost 1,000 have been injured this month in the worst political unrest in almost two decades.
Protesters hurled rocks at soldiers and riot police who used razor wire to block their convoy on a major road heading out of the city, where they have been rallying for weeks in a bid to overthrow the government.
Troops fired into the air and also directly at the Red Shirts as the standoff between the two sides spilled over from the protesters' fortified rally base in the heart of the capital, which is under a state of emergency.
"Real bullets were used because soldiers and police are human and protesters attacked officials first," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told a news conference.
Security forces said they had seized 62 M79 grenades from suspected Red Shirts riding a motorcycle towards the area where the confrontation occurred.
Many of the Reds come from Thailand's rural poor and urban working classes and seek the return of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.
One soldier died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head during the clashes, while two more soldiers and 16 civilians were wounded, some of them seriously, medical officials said.
The Reds -- who want immediate elections to replace Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government -- accused troops of using "war weapons" against them, and said the soldier was a victim of friendly fire.
"He was shot by people on the same side as him," protest leader Jatuporn Prompan told AFP.
About 2,000 protesters had earlier moved out of their sprawling rally site in pick-up trucks and on motorcycles, saying they wanted to hand out leaflets about their cause. Many others remained at the fortified camp.
The clashes erupted near Bangkok's number two airport Don Mueang International, which is about 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the main rally site and handles mostly charter and domestic flights.
"It looks like a war. They are fighting with unarmed people," another protest leader, Nattawut Saikuar, said from a stage at the site in Bangkok's commercial district that has become the focus of the mass rallies.
He had warned earlier in the day that the demonstrators -- who have been shedding their trademark red clothing to confuse security forces -- were "ready to fight to the death".
The Reds have beefed up their base's defences with barricades made from truck tyres and bamboo stakes. On Tuesday the protesters blocked city trains.
They have been on alert for another crackdown since April 10, when a failed attempt by the army to clear Bangkok's historic area of protesters descended in bloody street battles that left 25 people dead and hundreds injured.
A series of grenade blasts last week killed one person and injured dozens in the city's financial district.
Army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said Tuesday that security forces were ready and waiting "for the right time" to retake the Reds' rally area, which has paralysed traffic and caused many major hotels and stores to close.
Raising the pressure on the embattled Abhisit, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear a recommendation by an election body to dissolve the ruling party for alleged misuse of grant money.
Abhisit said in an interview with the BBC Tuesday he would step down if he believed he were an obstacle to stability.
Hopes of an end to the crisis were dashed at the weekend when Abhisit -- who is regarded as elitist and undemocratic by his opponents -- rejected an offer by the Reds to disperse if elections are held in three months' time.
Early Wednesday morning two grenade attacks hit a Bangkok bank and military checkpoint but nobody was wounded, police said.
Britain on Tuesday urged its nationals to avoid non-essential travel to Thailand due to "violent incidents of an unpredictable nature," the latest in a string of travel advisories for the "Land of Smiles."
Date created : 2010-04-28