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Bangkok: fatal clashes after general's shooting

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 May 2010

An army coup could be the result of the protests paralysing the Thai capital. But will that be enough, asks Nick Paton Walsh, to quieten the outpouring of anger on Bangkok's streets?

Khattiya Sawasdipol (Reuters)

The protesters had gathered outside the Suan Lum night market in the Thai capital in a bid to prevent soldiers from moving towards their main encampment in the business area of the city.

Gunfire and grenade blasts were heard in central Bangkok, but police said these were warning shots fired into the air to frighten the red-shirted protesters, who have been occupying parts of Bangkok for more than two months.

Table of contents
- Nick Paton Walsh reports on the violence
- Interactive map of the protests
- Background to the Thai demonstrations

Foreign Office advice to travellers
The Foreign Office website is advising "against all travel to specific parts of Thailand." It continues: "We advise against all but essential travel to other specific parts of Thailand, including Bangkok."

UK citizens in Thailand who wish to speak to the British embassy there are advised to ring 02 305 833. If a connection is not possible, they are advised to ring the Foreign Office in London on 0044 0207 008 1500.

Eight people have been killed in the latest round of protests and at least 100 wounded, including three journalists, according to hospitals and eye-witnesses. One of the injured journalists worked for the France 24 television station. A Thai photographer was also shot, according to a Reuters witness.

The British embassy in Bangkok, which is located close to the scene of the latest protests, closed temporarily this morning. The British ambassador has advised against all but essential travel to Bangkok.

Reaching an endgame
It's been the most sporadic, volatile and unpredictable of protests, but it appears to be coming to an endgame, writes Channel 4 News foreign correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

Troops lining Lumpini Park, where tourists normally mill. Silomo, the road that heads towards Bangkok's seediest dens and bars, echoing with gunfire. Buses on fire. It is chaos.

Today's violence has a particular resonance for many journalists in Bangkok as it's happening where we work, and where many of us live. The offices of many big media corporations are inside the protest zone. My trip to work used to involve a walk through makeshift barricades. Now it would requires negotiating police lines.

Chaos is the only real word for it: reports of police firing on troops (they're thought to be pro-protest, the troops often angered by their clashes with the protesters); reports of bullets whizzing trough office block glass windows; the press being shot at. It is clearly in collapse.

In the past, periods of violence have given way to calm and the desire to talk again. But now negotiation has proven almost pointless: the Red Shirt protest leaders unable to wholly accept the PM's last - hardly generous - offer of a settlement; the protesters themselves out there so long, so angry, they perhaps don't want to go home without having their emotions felt, however that may be.

What next? It's impossible to predict. But the army is now genuinely in play. There had been fears its leaders were unwilling to perform the PM's orders. The bloodshed could continue. It could cause the PM to step back and a pause in the current standoff.

Or the army, as is historically almost the norm in Thai politics, might step in politically and try to bring calm.

But there are also fears about whether another coup - the 19th in 80 years - could really quieten the outpouring of anger on Bangkok's streets now.

Read more from Nick Paton Walsh on our world news blog

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The demonstrators – many of whom support former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra – want Thailand's prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.

Last night's violence follows a security crackdown after a the collapse of a reconciliation plan proposed last week by prime minister. 30 people have been killed since the crisis began last month. It has paralysed parts of Bangkok.

A renegade army general who appears to have been in charge of security for the thousands of protesters occupying a part of Bangkok is in a stable condition after he was shot by a sniper while talking to reporters on Thursday evening.

The shooting of Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as "She Daeng" (Commander Red), sparked several confrontations between protesters and armed security forces on the outskirts of the protesters' encampment.

The Foreign Office estimates there are currently some 50,000 British nationals resident in Thailand and around 800,000 visiting the country each year.

View Violence in Bangkok in a larger map.

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Background: Thailand protests
Thailand has been gripped by political crisis since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

In December 2008 Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was chosen as prime minister leading to hopes that his appointment may quell the political unrest.

But in March 2010 pro-Thaksin supporters launched new protests on the streets of Bangkok calling for new fresh democratic elections. The anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the red shirts, say Prime Minister Abhisit came to power illegitimately and is a puppet of the military. Educated at Eton and Oxford,  Abhisit is backed by the royalist urban elite.

The protests have continued for two months with thousands of red shirts holding encampments in the capital while demonstrators clash with police and soldiers.

In an effort to ease the unrest Abhisit offered a reconciliation deal to hold an early election on 14 November. The offer has since been withdrawn after protesters refused to move out of a protest site in a shopping and hotel district in Bangkok.

The red shirts agreed to Abhisit's five point plan and the new poll date but insisted the prime minister and his deputy be prosecuted for ordering to break up a demonstration on 10 April which left 25 dead and 800 wounded.

The government has since said the deal is off leading to concern over a future reconciliation with protesters.

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