A soldier was shot dead today as Thailand’s red shirt protesters tried to expand their demonstrations into the suburbs around Bangkok. At least 18 other people may have been injured in clashes between soldiers and protesters.
While there has been continual concern about the escalation of violence since protests began seven weeks ago, the scale of this most recent incident along with mounting impatience among security forces has raised concerns that violence could reach new levels.
The antigovernment red shirt protesters have created a fortified area in the middle of the capital as they demand the dissolution of Parliament. Tensions rose substantially today when nearly 2,000 demonstrators left their makeshift compound intent on recruiting supporters outside the city, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The group loaded into trucks and other vehicles and vowed they would break through any military checkpoints that refused to let them pass. Thai troops reportedly fired rubber bullets at protesters who refused to stop, and the situation grew more violent when some antigovernment activists charged soldiers with homemade weapons.
It remains unclear if police only fired rubber bullets or if live ammunition was used as well, reports The Canadian Press. It was also difficult for officials to determine how many people were injured in the clashes. Although Thai forces have been ordered to use rubber bullets against the Red Shirts, in extreme situations they are permitted to use live ammunition in self-defense.
“At this point, there is too much chaos for anybody to constantly report what kind bullets they are using. … We brought force out to stop them. At this point, society finds it unacceptable to have protesters travelling in a motorcade like this,” [said Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd]. “We try our best to prevent losses.”
There are reports that the police officer who was shot in the head may have been hit by another policeman. According to BBC correspondent Rachel Harvey, the soldier may have been “shot in a ‘friendly fire’ incident during a lull in the clashes.” Despite today’s escalation in violence, there is no indication that Thai security forces will move in to break up the red shirt camp in Bangkok.
As the authorities grow increasingly impatient with the Red Shirts, Sky News’ correspondent Alex Crawford reports that she has seen police use tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. The confrontation today took place at a major intersection and brought traffic to a standstill as Red Shirts and police battled with people from both sides taking cover behind cars. Since major protests began 27 people have been killed and some 1,000 injured.
Inside the red shirt camp, which is surrounded by a wall of bamboo and tires, protesters remain resolute to continue their demonstration until the country holds elections. Al Jazeera reports that Thais from all over the country have rallied in the red shirt village, with some even returning from abroad to provide support. However, as many protesters have been in the camp for more than six weeks, conditions are starting to deteriorate. Several people in the camp have been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, and trash has begun to accumulate. Vendors selling odds and ends to red shirts have also started to complain that many of the protesters no longer have money to spend.