As violence in Bangkok continues into its fifth day, 33 have died and another 239 have been wounded.
Supporters of the National United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) — the Red Shirts — have occupied the Ratchaprasong area in the centre of Bangkok since early March but clashes with the Thai authorities have become increasingly deadly in the past week.
On Saturday afternoon Thai security forces announced that the areas of Din Daeng and Bon Kai would be designated “live-fire zones” with anyone in these areas likely to be shot on sight. Following the announcement, the international organisation Human Rights Watch released a statement condemning the “live fire zones”, saying that such measures could easily lead to increased violence and human rights abuse:
“The Thai government should immediately revoke the designation of neighbourhood areas as ‘live fire zones’ that might be used to justify the unnecessary and unlawful use of lethal force. By setting out these ‘live fire zones’, the Thai authorities are on a slippery slope towards serious abuses. It’s a small step for soldiers to think ‘live fire zone’ means ‘free fire zone’, especially as violence escalates.”
Sunday, negotiations between the Red Shirts and the Thai government made some progress, with protest leader Nattawut Saikua offering to withdraw troops if Thai authorities did the same. Violence returned in the evening, however, after Saikua insisted that any negotiations be watched over by the UN — a stipulation to which the Thai government refused to agree.
“From what I have seen on the ground, Thai soldiers and police have behaved with restraint. They have controlled their fire. Not fired wildly. They have been responsible in the face of madness.”
On Friday a “rogue army general” Khattiya Sawasdipol (aka Seh Daeng) was shot in the head by an as-yet unknown sniper. Writing on his blog Newley.com, Bangkok-based freelance journalist Newley Purnell provided a first-hand account of the aftermath of the shooting:
“… but soon Seh Daeng would be shot in Lumphini Park, on the southern edge of the protest site. And there further clashes broke out throughout the evening. Afterwards, I made my back up to Rajaprasong, and although the power had been cut, the red shirt protests continued, thanks to electricity from generators.”
The Bangkok Post’s editor Voranai Vanijaka said the Red Shirts had been given what they asked, and should now retreat:
“The goals of the UDD from the very start: They wanted a House dissolution. They will have one in September. They wanted a general election. They will have one on Nov 14. They should be dancing in the streets, celebrating victory. Then we can all go to the voting booth in November. Peace and democracy. But no.”
The violent clashes have received considerable media coverage around the world over the last week. Seth Mydans and Thomas Fuller from the New York Times offered this analysis of the situation thus far:
“The violence began after protest leaders rejected a government offer of an early election, which had been their initial demand. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva than withdrew the offer, halted negotiations and ordered troops to blockade the protest site, but not invade it.”
Fairfax’s Asia-Pacific editor Hamish McDonald wrote that British PM David Cameron should lead negotiations with Thailand’s Prime Minister in an attempt to prove himself early on in his leadership:
“A first peace mission suggests itself for David Cameron, Britain’s newly elected prime minister. Why not head to Bangkok to talk his two-years-older Eton and Oxford fellow student and Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, out of the dreadful, bloody mess he’s helped create?”
As the violent protests continue on the streets of Bangkok, the Australian Embassy has closed its doors until further notice. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is urging Australians to avoid travelling to Thailand where possible.
Brisbane-based journalist Brett Debritz has also been live tweeting from Bangkok, highlighting the danger for all concerned:
“Bangkok: Reports of indiscriminant sniper activity; evacuation of elderly and children from danger zone.”