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Thailand: Bloggers document violent clashes

21 dead. 858 injured.

These were the casualties in yesterday’s violent clash between Red Shirt protesters and soldiers in Thailand. The Red Shirts, which have been protesting in the streets for one month already, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign, dissolve the Parliament and call for a new round of elections.

Tony Joh documented the violent clash between protesters and soldiers at Phan Fa bridge.

Tony’s brief narration of the bloody event

Earlier in the day the army had pushed their way into Phan Fa bridge and had forced the protesters back, well this evening the protesters decided to mount a comeback.

At first the situation was relatively calm with the army playing soft soothing music to try and keep the situation peaceful. However that all changed in a split second as gunfire erupted and the crowd attacked with plastic water bottles and bamboo sticks.
The army, outnumbered and perhaps sensing that they were losing control opened fire on the crowd. People ran and ducked for cover as the sound of automatic gunfire range out over the protest site. Soon the protesters were picking up even deadlier weapons and suddenly the army was hit by a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The army at this point decided to retreat and surrendered their thanks and armour personnel carriers to the red shirts, who attacked them with sticks and shields.

Nirmal Ghosh was also an eyewitness of the violent clash

The army had bizarrely set up a sound truck which was blasting out '70s disco hits in an attempt to keep the mood light. When I got there they were playing Boney M's “Rasputin.” A local truce was negotiated between a red shirt and the army unit commander.

But red shirts reinforced their fellow protestors in large numbers both at Ratchaprasong and at Rajadamnoen, and by nightfall it seemed inevitable that the army’s push to clear Rajadamnoen and Pan Fah, would go wrong.

The mood at Ratchaprasong where the main red shirt protest is camped was stable and even upbeat. But at Rajadamnoen in the Democracy Monument-Kao San road area, hours of standoffs and some skirmishes erupted into nasty full scale pitched battles with troops shooting directly at red shirts with both rubber and live bullets.

At Khao San road, an area swarming with tourists, violence also erupted

Journotopia's twitter feed is must-read: “Barricades going up at Khao San. Reds preparing for soldiers’ return. Several pools of blood on road…. Don't listen to bland Thai govt reassuarances. Khao San is a dangerous place. I've seen 2 tourists with injuries… Khao San lis shuttered up, red shirts everywhere. It looks like a warzone… Pitched battles in streets around Khao San. Tourists ducking for cover. A red shirt with an AK47. Scenes of chaos at Khao San. Tourists tell me they saw horrific inuries, an old man with an eye hanging out.”

A short video clip showing the tense atmosphere at Khao San Road

A reader sent this email to New Mandala. This report describes the impact of the clash between soldiers and protesters.

Walking toward the protest, I noticed that there was a feeling of defiance in the air, but also weariness. All those walking back in the other direction looked extremely tired, and many were covered in grime, if not cuts and bruises. I also noticed here and there individuals (as well as an entire family, children included) who appeared to have “souvenired” some police helmets, riot shields and batons somewhere along the way.

A column of Armoured Personnel Carriers extending into one of the side streets. Swarming all over them were hundreds of red shirts, who were literally tearing them to pieces with their bare hands. Occasionally, they would stop so a middle-class Bangkok family could come and pose in front of the APC’s, perhaps lifting their children up on top for a better shot, but it wasn’t long until the demolitions began again in earnest.

But one didn’t need video evidence to know that violence had taken place there. The doors of all the shop-houses up and down the streets were riddled with the dents of rubber bullets. The streets themselves had been transformed into a mosaic of broken glass, stones and other debris. And then there was the blood

Nicholas Day shares his experience during the commotion. He also gives a clearer characterization of the Red Shirt protesters

Whether the bullets were live or just blanks I do not know. If they were live then they must not have been fired into the crowd in that confined space or a large number of people would have been dead. We did not move back far, we didn’t even get back onto Rajadamern road. People stopped their retreat and stayed on, although maybe at a slightly safer distance than before. People were saying that they were not real bullets. The people who did not move at all were the red-shirt guards who stayed right where they were at the front of their barricade. These guys must either be crazy or very determined and well disciplined, or maybe a bit of both.

I have learnt a few things in these last few hours. One is that tear-gas is really nasty stuff; the other is that the soldiers will need to use a hell of a lot of it to remove the red-shirts from Rajadamnern road.

Bloggers have already posted several pictures of the bloody confrontation in Bangkok. Some soldiers were hostaged by protesters during the encounter. They were released the following day.

After touring the site of confrontation, Thailand's Troubles concludes that soldiers didn't use live rounds in dispersing the crowd

The Prime Minister's claim of troops only shooting into the air with live rounds is incorrect and may be an outright lie. It has yet again been shown that Thai troops are ill-led, ill-equipped and ill-trained for tackling civil unrest without resorting to deadly force. Whether troops mounted their assault with orders to shoot at demonstrators or did so for reasons of personal malice may again never be known. But sending under-trained and poorly-led troops, with little experience of such imbroglios, into a tense and difficult situation with live rounds is a recipe for trouble.

Thai officials wanted protesters to end the rallies which have been hurting the economy, especially the tourism sector. Because of the violent clash, the political standoff is expected to worsen.

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