Bloody street battles in Bangkok claim 16 lives


Bangkok : Clashes between Thai troops and anti-government protesters have claimed 16 lives and left dozens wounded in two days of fighting that has turned the heart of the capital into a war zone, official sources said Saturday.

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The government Thursday launched an offensive against the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) to force them from their protest site at Ratchaprasong Road, Bangkok’s upmarket commercial district. It escalated into bloody street battles to secure all access points to the area Friday.

According to Bangkok Metropolitan Medical Centre, 16 civilians died and 141 sustained wounds, including three journalists, in street fighting Thursday and Friday.

Troops used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against protesters mostly armed with molotov cocktails, stones and sticks.

Fighting was reported Friday night at Din Daeng and Ratchaprasop roads where troops had set up barricades to prevent red shirt protesters from joining the UDD leaders at Ratchaprasong.

There are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 red shirts within the protest site, now a sprawling city within the city, which is protected by barricades of tyres and sharpened bamboo sticks.

Roads surrounding the Ratchaprasong district have been closed to traffic by troops.

UDD leaders have pledged to remain at the site, even if it leads to civil war. The movement, which claims to be fighting for democracy and a better deal for the long-neglected rural and urban poor, has many supporters in the countryside.

The UDD has occupied the Ratchaprasong neighbourhood since April 3, in a bid to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold elections.

On May 3, Abhisit agreed to hold an election on Nov 14 and to set up a national reconciliation road map to address some of the social issues raised by the UDD protest and pave the way for peaceful polls on the condition that the UDD end its protest.

But the UDD insisted that Abhisit and his deputy prime minister in charge of security, Suthep Thaugsuban, be legally accountable for a previous crackdown on its followers on April 10, which left 25 dead.

Since the UDD protest began March 12, a total of 45 people have died in clashes and attacks, and more than 1,000 have been injured.

The last time the country witnessed such violence was in May 1992, when an anti-military demonstration was mowed down by soldiers, leaving 44 dead and more than 100 missing.