TOPICS > Nation

In Thailand, Tensions Renewed with Shooting of Anti-Government Leader

May 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
Loading the player...
Troops in Thailand moved to seal off an encampment of anti-government protests, as the shooting of a renegade general allied with demonstrators accelerated the violence in Bangkok. Judy Woodruff talks to GlobalPost reporter Patrick Winn about the unrest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more, we turn to Patrick Winn of GlobalPost, an international news Web site. I talked with him from Bangkok a short time ago.

Patrick Winn, it’s early in the morning there in Bangkok. Can you tell us what the situation is now at this encampment where the protesters are?

PATRICK WINN, GlobalPost: Yes.

The encampment actually is right behind me now. And it’s pretty tense. There have been some serious violent incidents tonight. The army at long last is going in for a serious crackdown. This has been some of the most intense violence since an April 10 crackdown that left about 25 people dead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Patrick, what’s the condition of this general, dissident general, who was shot in the head?

PATRICK WINN: Well, he appears to be in a coma at this point. It’s actually a small miracle that he didn’t die. He took what appears to be a sniper rifle bullet to his temple. He was captured on video slumping over and bleeding.

And his followers, his disciples, who pretty much take his orders and consider him their leader, took him to the hospital and made sure that he got care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have any more information about exactly what happened, who the gunman was, what they were aiming at?

PATRICK WINN: Well, it appears that this dissident general was the person who was targeted. It’s a bit unclear exactly who fired the shot.

This is a man that has many enemies, both in — among the military, because he is — he disobeys his superiors, and people that simply don’t like the protesters who he claims to defend.

The government has come out and said tonight that they didn’t fire the shot or order the shooting. But, at this point, chaos and confusion is reigning. And it’s going to be unclear for some time exactly who fired the shot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Remind us again who these Red Shirt protesters are. What — what are they protesting?

PATRICK WINN: The Red Shirt protesters feel that they have been shortchanged. They call themselves peasants and commoners, and they’re seeking fresh elections.

Some of them are loyal to an ex-prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a military coup in 2006. His political parties, which — which they back, won several elections after that, but they were dissolved for fraud.

So, these are people that feel like they can’t get a fair shake, and they feel like the current ruling party has risen to power illegitimately.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what — what exactly triggered this latest round of violence? Because it did appear for a while that things were calming down.

PATRICK WINN: It did, Judy. Last week, it looked like the government and the protesters, after about eight weeks, were coming to a settlement.

The prime minister offered to cut his term short by more than a year and have elections this November. That’s more or less in line with the protesters’ goal, to force new elections. In exchange, of course, they would go home.

But when the protesters started pushing and pushing, and asking for criminal charges against the prime minister and his deputy, who they think masterminded some of the army raids that killed their brethren, things fell apart. And now you see what we have got here.

The government has said they — they no longer take the Red Shirts seriously, that they weren’t really negotiating for peace, and they were just stalling and had ulterior motives. And, thus, we have the crackdown that happened tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, what do people you talk to think is going to happen next, because the government has rescinded the idea of early elections? What do people expect now?

PATRICK WINN: The idea of early elections is now on the rocks. The Red Shirts tonight are claiming they’re going to going to fight to the very end.

And they often employ this really fight-to-the-death-style stage rhetoric. So, that’s nothing new. But it takes on an added dimension, given that some of their people have been killed tonight.

So, at this point, it looks like they’re going to stick it out. The army has several choke points around their encampment to prevent new reinforcements from coming in. And the army seems to be now taking more seriously the idea of — of cutting off the supply routes to the encampment, which is in the middle of Bangkok in a very glitzy, up-market shopping area.

Power is cut to some of these parts, and it’s very difficult to get in if you’re not a journalist or someone that can prove they’re a resident of the immediate area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Patrick Winn, we are going to leave it there. We thank you very much for talking with us.

PATRICK WINN: Thank you, Judy.