Ongoing political unrest in Thailand took a new turn Thursday after an anti-government army general aiding the country’s Red Shirt protesters was shot in the head as he spoke with foreign reporters in Bangkok.
Khattiya Sawatdiphol is accused of leading a militia force among the protesters — but he’s also alienated many of the Red Shirts with his militant approach. After the incident, Khattiya was rushed to the hospital. As of late Thursday, he was reported to be alive but in intensive care with severe wounds. The identity and affiliation of the shooter was not yet known, and no group had claimed responsibility for the attack.
New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller was standing a few feet from the general when he was shot. He described the scene in a phone interview with Hari Sreenivasan.
“I don’t think anything went through my mind except for just the idea that this bullet probably passed over my head and hit him in the forehead,” Fuller said. “We were facing each other.”
Hear more of their discussion:
Asked who’s possibly behind the assassination attempt, “I couldn’t even guess,” Fuller said. “This is a society that has become deeply fractured: the institutions are divided, the military appears divided, the police is often very sympathetic with the protesters. The population itself is geographically divided. I can think of a lot of motives. I can think of a lot of different groups but Thailand has entered this very shadowy phase in its political turmoil and we just don’t know who is doing what.”
The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon that a 25-year-old man died of a gunshot in the resulting violence between troops and anti-government protesters in central Bangkok.
The shootings occurred as the government was beginning a crackdown on the one- square-mile downtown area taken over and held by Red Shirt protesters. The government announced earlier on Thursday that armored personnel carriers would be used to close of the area.
General Khattiya’s last words before the shooting were, “the military cannot get in here,” according to Fuller.
GlobalPost reporter Patrick Winn told the NewsHour in a telephone interview from Bangkok the military is cutting off power to the area, and trying to cut off food and water supplies to the protesters.
“It was publicly announced that they were going to put the squeeze on the protesters and that if they wanted to avoid confrontation they should leave,” Winn said. “Protesters are using generators to keep the rallies and speeches going.”
Khattiya is a controversial figure among the protesters, who are demanding new elections and resignation by the prime minister.
“He is the face of extremism in the protests,” said Winn, “the whole time the protesters have been trying to sound non militant so they began distancing themselves from him.”
On Wednesday, the prime minister had called off a proposed Nov. 14 election under his “national reconciliation” in negotiations with the red-shirted protesters after they raised new demands, including fresh charges against him.
We’ll have more on the situation in Thailand on Thursday’s NewsHour. Stay tuned.