Eight people are reported dead and more than 100 injured in clashes between Thai anti-government protesters and military soldiers that began Thursday and raged into the night Friday.
“It’s absolute chaos in the city of Bangkok now,” said BBC reporter Alastair Leithead from the scene of one of the clashes Friday. “It’s a very volatile, very dangerous situation.”
Security forces are attempting to drive the Red Shirt protesters from the upscale area of downtown Bangkok they have occupied for the last two months. (The BBC has a good backgrounder on the protests and the Red Shirt movement.) The protesters have been demanding that the prime minister step down and new elections be held this year.
Tear gas and rubber bullets were shot into crowds during the violent encounters between opposition and security forces Friday, as the military attempted to set up a perimeter around the protest encampment. As many as 30,000 troops backed by armored personnel carriers have been deployed for the operation, reported Voice of America, and an estimated 10,000 protesters have been living in the encampment.
The latest wave of violence began after dissident general Khattiya Sawatdiphol was shot in the head Thursday while being interviewed by foreign reporters. The general, known for preaching militant opposition methods, was rushed to a hospital and remained in a coma Friday. The identity of the shooter is not known and the military denied Friday that it was involved.
The downtown area in Bangkok has been turned into a “war zone,” according to reports in the Christian Science Monitor. Mass transit is disrupted and the violence has forced businesses and some embassies in the area to close and be evacuated. Local television reported several grenades hit a shopping center and an elevated-rail station.
The Red Shirts and the government had seemed close to a compromise just a week ago, and the prime minister had set a date for new elections. But negotiations fell through as the protesters pushed for fresh demands and the offer for new elections was rescinded just before the security operation began.