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Thai troops fire on rioting protesters

Thai troops fired bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters rioting near the US and Japanese embassies today as an army push to clear the streets sparked deadly clashes and turned central Bangkok into a virtual war zone.

world Updated: May 14, 2010 17:15 IST

Thai troops fired bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters rioting near the US and Japanese embassies today as an army push to clear the streets sparked deadly clashes and turned central Bangkok into a virtual war zone.

Violence escalated after a rogue army general regarded as a military adviser to the Red Shirt protesters was shot in the head on yesterday evening, possibly by a sniper, leaving him in critical condition. Ensuing street clashes have killed two people and wounded at least 13 others, including a Thai photographer and a foreign journalist.

With security deteriorating and hopes of a peaceful resolution to the two-month standoff fading, unrest plunged Thailand deeper into political uncertainty, threatening the country's stability, economy and already-decimated tourism industry.

Today's violence was initially centered on a small area home to several foreign embassies, but by midafternoon had spread to other areas around the protest zone.

Soldiers crouched behind a raised road divider in one area and fired rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas shells. Army vehicles were seen speeding on deserted streets littered with stones and debris. Protesters retreated and hurled rocks and insults.

Fighting has now killed 31 people and injured hundreds since the Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, began camping in the capital on March 12, in a bid to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They claim his coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, which in 2006 forced the populist premier favoured by the Red Shirts, Thaksin Shinawatra, from office in a coup.

The latest death came today, when a 33-year-old man died of a gunshot wound linked to the protests, said Suwinai Busarakamwong at Kluay Namthai Hospital.

Last week, Abhisit offered November elections, raising hopes that a compromise could be reached with the Red Shirts, who have been demanding immediate elections. Those hopes were dashed after Red Shirt leaders made more demands.

Late yesterday, the army moved to seal off the Red Shirt barricaded encampment which covers 3-square-kilometre in an upscale commercial district of the capital. Some 10,000 protesters, women and children among them, have crammed into the area.