(From http://bit.ly/cL5Ozw) Red shirt protesters seemed to have bought all the fireworks from Chinatown last week to antagonize Thai army soldiers entrenched on Rama IV Road. The street was a sniper kill zone, and sure enough, one of the protesters next to the Lumpini Tower building was shot in the head just before sunset. I was editing and writing about this early in the morning on Wednesday, May 19, when I had to drop the matter because the army had assembled for the endgame push. Completing my narrative of May 14 through 20, here's the footage of my coverage of covering the Thai crisis, two days before the crackdown.
Seeking to end two months of protests by anti-government "red shirts" demonstrators, the Thai government fielded hundreds of soldiers supported by armored personnel carriers at dawn on May 19, 2010. Civilians suffered the heaviest casualties during the heavy urban fighting to follow, as well as one soldier and two journalists. At least 15 people were killed (Updated). Filmed by Kenneth Todd Ruiz, edited by Tracy Vanity. Visit reporterinexile.com for more information.
One day after the fiery destruction of much of the Central World Plaza mall on May 19, Internet conspiracy theories took shape regarding the "crazy farang" filmed several days prior. In a Youtube video (since removed) a Briton proclaims the mall will be looted and burnt.
Having spent significant time behind the barricades of the reds' fortified Silom camp, I had seen this man several times. He never spoke in a normal tone of voice -- always shouting and screaming. It didn't take a DSM-IV diagnosis to tell he was emotionally disturbed.
His presence posed a threat to any Westerners, particularly journalists, who might be among the reds. Two photojournalist colleagues and I had established enough rapport with the "Men in Black" that they would hold fire when we entered and left the camp. Leaving only the army snipers to worry about.
On the morning of Saturday, May 15, the Crazy Farang ran out into the street and began throwing rocks toward the army, screaming "Thai Army fucks!" and ordering the reds to "Kill them! Kill them!" They laughed at him. Obviously they were amused but didn't take him seriously. When an AFP reporter told him to chill out, he screamed at him and tried to start an altercation. "They killed my friend! This is war!" he yelled. The reds threatened to kick him out at that point. It seems unlikely to me he participated in any conspiracy or any type of planning that might have led to the mall fire. I don't think he even spoke Thai.
I was there to document the greater conflict, so I didn't waste any further tape on him. Didn't consider him more than a novelty and annoyance. Someone who, at best, had eschewed the usual mechanisms for a typical midlife crisis. Yes, I'm muttering my unkind, internal dialogue.
Reporterinexile.com's insight into covering the first three days and nights of the Thai crisis. An inside look at covering a conflict.
By Kenneth Todd Ruiz
BANGKOK – A sniper’s bullet struck a rogue army officer revered by anti-government demonstrators, plunging the Thai capital into a night of chaos Thursday which left at least one civilian dead and scores injured.
Maj. Gen. Khattiya Swasdipol, an incendiary figure known here as the "Red General,” was shot in the head just before sunset as the Thai army moved to seal off an expansive area occupied by “red shirt” protesters the past six weeks.
"You have decided to crush us, we are being surrounded,” said Sean Boonpracong of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, which is orchestrating the effort to depose the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. “We are ready to sacrifice and we are preparing our defenses ... we will fight you.”
Khattiya, who had been suspended from the army and even disobeyed directives from red-shirt leaders, was still in critical condition Friday morning. Tasked with red-shirt security, he had bragged of recruiting former soldiers and training his own “Ronin Warriors” to fight the government.
In the aftermath of the attempted assassination, enraged protesters threw rocks and petrol bombs throughout the night while exchanging sporadic gunfire and grenade attacks with soldiers positioned nearby.
Assaulted by rocks and fireworks from a taunting mob of red shirts, a group of soldiers crouching in the darkness of Bangkok’s large central park opened fire with M16 rifles just before 11 p.m., killing at least one civilian.
Despite the government’s pledge to cordon off the protest area, red shirts took control of a major road and stormed a bus carrying riot police. The police agreed to turn back and leave the area after a tense exchange.
Ambulances rushed eight red-shirt guards to the hospital after they were reportedly poisoned. Witnesses said they had been given free coffee from a van that quickly left the scene.
Thai authorities made no visible effort to block traffic from the conflict zone. A motorist caught in the crossfire of automatic weapons and M79 grenade launchers was hospitalized after stumbling from his car with a head wound.
Red shirts encamped near the Silom Road financial district exchanged rounds of sustained gunfire with garrisoned soldiers.
Although the red-shirts proclaim to be unarmed and nonviolent, a number of their black-clad security have been seen carrying and firing weapons.
Thursday’s violence followed a botched crackdown last month that killed 25 people and injured more than 800. Grenades fired from M79 grenade launchers killed a 26-year-old Thai woman in Bangkok’s financial district three weeks ago.
Thai authorities announced earlier Thursday their plan to disperse protesters – whose numbers fluctuate from about 5,000 to 10,000 – after red-shirt leaders abandoned a government-sponsored reconciliation plan they had earlier agreed to.
Under that agreement, Abhisit would have dissolved parliament and held new elections in six months.
But his “road map for peace” offered no provisions to politically rehabilitate the former prime minister whom the red shirts are fighting to return to power.
Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecom billionaire turned populist politician, is widely believed to be orchestrating and financing the red shirts.
His pledges in 2000 to address growing class disparities won support from the rural poor who now comprise the red-shirt rank and file. The military deposed his government four years ago, the 11th such coup since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Thaksin subsequently fled Thailand after being convicted of corruption.
A Thaksin-loyal government followed, but was toppled in 2008 after middle-class royalists, the so-called “Yellow Shirts,” crippled Bangkok by shutting down its airports.
The yellow-red conflict between the rural poor and urban elite underscores ever-growing class divisions the “Land of Smiles.” Bangkok has enjoyed decades of a booming success from which the rice-basket provinces complain they have not benefited.
Five grenades fired from M79 launchers tore into a Skytrain station and a yellow shirt counterprotest in Bangkok's financial district the night of April 22. The unidentified attacker(s) killed one woman and wounded more than 70 others. In the aftermath, enraged mobs nearly beat two people to death.