Thai troops attack protest site, foreign journalist killed

May 19th, 2010 - 12:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Abhisit Vejjajiva Bangkok, May 19 (DPA) An Italian journalist was shot dead Wednesday as armoured personnel carriers smashed through the outer barriers of an anti-government protest site in the heart of Bangkok in a new offensive.

Thai troops, deployed at the intersection of Rama IV and Silom roads, used the armoured vehicles to break through barricades of rubber tyres and bamboo sticks outside Lumpini Park that had been erected weeks ago by protesters who have occupied the Ratchaprasong commercial district since April 3.

An Italian news photographer was reported to have been hit by a bullet to the chest and killed. Local television reports said four other journalists were wounded Wednesday.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn described the effort to retake Lumpini Park as “successful”.

It has been largely abandoned by the protesters since Thursday, the day the government launched its offensive to clear the protesters from Ratchaprasong, an upmarket shopping and hotel district in central Bangkok that has been transformed into a fortified protest zone.

Other troops advanced on Wireless Road on the eastern side of Lumpini and were fighting to control Sarasin Road, the park’s northern boundary. At least 16 people were wounded in the clashes that began Wednesday morning, hospital sources said.

The protesters set fire to tyres on Ratchadamri Road, the access road to the main protest area, where leaders of the movement encouraged their followers to sing and dance in preparation for the long-expected crackdown.

Crowds sympathetic to the Bangkok protesters were reported by local media to be gathering in several north-eastern provinces. In nearby Pathum Thani, about 300 red-shirt protesters gathered Monday at a local courthouse, demanding the release of demonstrators arrested in the past few days.

Another anti-government crowd gathered at a satellite uplink station north of Bangkok, threatening to shut down the facility if troops move on the main Ratchadamri protest site.

On Tuesday night, efforts by the Thai Senate to mediate a ceasefire between the protesters and the government failed.

Many of the red-shirted protesters, irate over their colleagues slain by troops over the past two months, rejected the Senate proposal. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva insisted that the protest, which started March 12, must cease before the government would negotiate with the demonstrators.

Shortly after the deployment of troops Wednesday at Rama IV, red shirts reportedly set fire to the Office of Narcotics Bureau at Din Daeng Road north of Rathaprasong, where bloody street battles raged over the weekend.

Thousands of troops surrounded the three square kilometre Ratchaprasong area, but the troops have themselves been cornered by new pockets of protesters on Rama IV and Din Daeng roads.

The red shirts have been demanding Abhisit dissolve parliament and hold new elections, but when May 3 he agreed to hold elections Nov 14, the movement raised new demands that eventually scuttled Abhisit’s peace proposal.

Government officials have maintained that fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the key political and financial supporter of the red shirts, is opposed to ending the demonstration until he can meet his own personal goals of obtaining an amnesty from a two-year jail term and have $1.4 billion in seized assets returned.

Thaksin was overthrown by a military coup in 2006 and fled the country to avoid a two-year prison term for corruption.

“The red shirt leaders should talk to Thaksin because he is the one who doesn’t want the demonstration to end,” the Prime Minister’s Office secretary general Korbsak Sabhavasu said. “As soon as you end the demonstration, the reconciliation process will begin.”

Thaksin posted comments on his Twitter and Facebook pages Wednesday urging the government to negotiate a settlement with his political allies in Bangkok.

“Stop blaming me,” his message said. “It has been four years and you (the government) are not satisfied. Isn’t this long enough for you?”

The nine-week protest has led to fierce street fighting that has paralysed central Bangkok and claimed 68 dead and more than 1,400 injured.

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