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Bangkok burns after Thai protest leaders arrested

world Updated: May 19, 2010 16:15 IST
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Downtown Bangkok became a raging battleground today as the army stormed a barricaded protest camp and the Red Shirt leadership surrendered, enraging demonstrators who fire grenades and set fires that cloaked the skyline in a black haze.

Rioters set fires at the Thai stock exchange, several banks, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, the high-end Central World shopping mall and a cinema complex that collapsed.

The Thai government declared a curfew in Bangkok from 8 pm until 6 am. An announcement signed by Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva and broadcast on television banned anyone from leaving home during those times without permission from authorities.

At least two protesters and an Italian news photographer were killed in today's army crackdown. Three other foreign journalists and 15 Thais were wounded in the fighting.

The chaotic end to the Red Shirt campaign is certain to deal a heavy blow to the economy and tourism industry of Thailand, a key US ally and long considered one of the more stable economies of Southeast Asia.

The Red Shirts are demanding the ouster of Abhisit's government, the dissolution of Parliament and new elections.

The Red Shirt protest leadership surrendered to authorities this afternoon and the army declared itself in full control, but fresh violence soon erupted across central Bangkok and unrest boiled over in the northeastern countryside, where the protests draw many of their mostly poor, rural supporters.

Protesters also turned their rage on the local media, which they have accused of biased coverage toward the government. Groups of rioters attacked the offices of state-run Channel 3 TV, where they set fires to cars parked outside, punctured water pipes that caused flooding and entered the building.

At least 42 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in a week of violence in Bangkok as a military attempt to blockade the protesters, who had camped in a 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometre) tourism and shopping district for more than four weeks, instead touched off street fighting, with soldiers firing on protesters who fought back mostly with homemade weapons.

Today afternoon, seven top Red Shirt leaders turned themselves in, saying they cannot see their supporters being killed anymore.