Thailand was reeling today from its worst political violence in nearly two decades after clashes between the army and anti-government demonstrators left 19 people dead and over 800 injured.
Fourteen civilians, including a Japanese TV cameraman, and five soldiers were killed in yesterday's crackdown on "Red Shirt" supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok, the emergency services said.
The violence erupted when troops tried to clear one of two sites in central Bangkok occupied by the protesters for the past month. Soldiers fired in the air and used tear gas, and the Reds responded by hurling rocks.
As the clashes intensified gunshots echoed around the city and both sides accused the other of using live ammunition. Emergency services said two protesters were killed by gunshot wounds to the head.
At once stage protesters overwhelmed and captured an armoured personnel carrier.
The army later retreated, calling for a truce with the demonstrators, who were holding five soldiers hostage. Thousands of protesters remained on the streets at the two protest sites today.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said an investigation had been launched into the violence and that negotiations were under way to bring about a resolution to the stand-off without further unrest.
"The prime minister's secretary is coordinating with protest leaders to solve the situation and would like protesters to stay put," he said.
The Thomson Reuters news agency said one its journalists, Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto, died after being shot in the chest during the protests.
It was the country's worst political violence since 1992 and the United States urged both sides to show restraint.
The mostly poor, rural Reds say the government is illegitimate as it came to power with military backing in 2008 after a court ousted Thaksin's allies from power.
Red Shirt protesters called on the country's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej to intervene to prevent further bloodshed.
"Did anybody inform the king that his children were killed in the middle of the road without justice?" Reds' leader Jatuporn Prompan asked protesters. "Is there anyone close to him who told him of the gunfights?"
Although he has no official political role, the hospitalised king is seen as a unifying figure. And during a 1992 uprising he chastised both the military and protest leaders, effectively bringing the violence to an end.