Red Shirts surrender after deadly army crackdown

2010-05-19 10:32

Thai protest leaders surrendered today and told thousands of Red

Shirt supporters to end their weeks-long rally after an army assault on their

fortified encampment left at least five people dead.

The military announced in a televised address that the situation

was under control and that it had halted its operation against the

anti-government protesters, whose supporters in northeast Thailand set fire to a

provincial hall.

The defence minister told AFP that a night-time curfew would be

imposed across the capital, Bangkok, which had been turned into a battle zone in

recent days as troops used live ammunition against demonstrators.

Gunfire crackled in clashes that erupted today after military

armoured vehicles smashed through barricades erected around the Red Shirts’

sprawling rally base in Bangkok and armed troops moved in.

A tearful protest leader later announced on stage that the Reds

would end their occupation of an upscale shopping and hotel district in the

heart of the capital where they have been camping for six weeks.

At least four top Reds later went to the police headquarters nearby

to give themselves up. The Thailand government said earlier that some protesters

had already fled their camp base.

An Italian photographer was among those shot dead during the

clashes at one end of the rally base, which stretches for several kilometres and

had been fortified with barricades made with tyres, bamboo stakes and razor


“An Italian man was shot and died before arriving at the hospital,”

said Police Hospital director Jongjet Aoajenpong. “He’s a journalist. He was

shot in the stomach.”

Four more people died and “many” were wounded, said a police

spokesperson, Major General Piya Uthayo.

The Police Hospital added that about 19 people were wounded,

including several other foreign journalists.

An AFP photographer saw two protesters lying dead on the ground

after being shot in the head when troops pushed into the encampment.

“I got shot from behind through the shoulder. It’s just a flesh

wound,” a reporter with Dutch national TV, Michel Maas, told AFP at the


The other journalist, an American, was shot in the leg but was not

seriously wounded. A third journalist, a Canadian, and four soldiers were also

badly wounded by grenade attacks inside the camp, AFP witnesses confirmed.

Piya said that the police had deployed about 1?000 rapid movement

officers who were authorised to shoot on sight anyone looting, committing arson

or inciting unrest, following several days of urban warfare in the


The Red Shirts had defied a government deadline to leave their camp

by Monday.

A military lockdown to seal off the site that was launched last

Thursday had left more than 40 dead in six days of violence.

Several thousand protesters, including women and children, were

inside the rally base when the army moved in.

Some were openly crying and others

put on face masks in fear of tear gas attacks.

Their leaders later asked them to

disperse and walk towards an area where the government had laid on buses to take

them away.

Hundreds of army and police officials had advanced towards the

protest zone in the pre-dawn hours, with trucks dropping off troops wearing

balaclavas and carrying weapons and riot shields, while a helicopter circled


Several large fires broke out at barricades and major buildings

around the protest zone, sending out massive clouds of black smoke that obscured

the Bangkok skyline.

The Reds are campaigning for elections to replace the

administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which they consider

illegitimate because it came to power with the backing of the army in a 2008

parliamentary vote.

They are mostly supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin

Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

A controversial court ruling ejected

Shinawatra’s elected allies from power, paving the way for Abhisit’s government

to be appointed.

Many countries have warned their citizens against travelling to

Thailand. Today Australia said travellers should not visit Bangkok, citing the

deteriorating security situation.

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