Thai Protesters Clash With Troops at Barricade

BY Larisa Epatko  April 28, 2010 at 6:44 PM EDT


Protesters in Thailand leave their downtown Bangkok encampment. Photo by Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

Anti-government protesters in Thailand trying to dismantle a military blockade on the outskirts of Bangkok clashed with security forces Wednesday. One soldier was killed — apparently by friendly fire — and 18 people were wounded.

The protesters, known as Red Shirts, are demanding the dissolution of Parliament, which they claim is illegitimate, and are calling for new elections.

Wednesday’s confrontation was the first instance of violence in nearly a week and showed that the protesters are expanding from their main base in the middle of Bangkok’s high-end shopping district.

Police had erected a razor-wire barricade on a street outside of Bangkok in an effort to prevent motorcades of protesters from entering the city. When several of the protesters tried to remove the razor wire, police fired rubber bullets and live ammunition into the air to disperse them.

In the chaos that ensued, security forces fired at troops arriving on motorbikes, causing some of them to crash. One soldier reportedly was carried away, bleeding from his head. The government’s Erawan emergency center later said a soldier died and two soldiers and 16 protesters were injured.

“Our side is running everything in order to create peace, but the government is trying to push war. And you know if (they) push war, civil war is coming,” said one of the Red Shirt leaders Weng Tojirakarn, The Associated Press reported.

The Red Shirts claim that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gained power illegitimately and runs a government that is unjust to the poor. Many support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed by a military coup in 2006.

Vejjajiva told the BBC that holding immediate elections wasn’t the answer.

“There is a clear threat that if we hold elections too soon, with the mood running as high in terms of divisions and in terms of tension, elections would turn violent and they would solve nothing and we could be back into this vicious cycle of demonstrations,” he said.
Protests since March 12 that have occasionally become violent have left at least 27 people dead and injured nearly 1,000.

Thailand’s government has said well-armed and trained gunmen are among the protesters and are firing back at troops who try to break up the demonstrations. Reuters lists what is known about the black-clad gunmen.

Meanwhile, travelers in Britain and Canada among other places, have been warned about traveling to Thailand. Tourism, which accounts for 6 percent of the country’s economy, has been in decline since the political turmoil began.

The AP describes how businesses, such as restaurants, nail salons and even yoga classes, are suffering due to the lack of foot traffic as the protests stretch into seven weeks.