Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
(from Telegraph.co.uk) – Five people have been killed in Thailand after troops opened fire on Red Shirt protesters barricading themselves in the centre of Bangkok.
At least 72 people have been wounded in fierce clashes that have turned central Bangkok into a virtual war zone.
Security forces moved to regain control of a road close to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, a popular spot with tourists, after Red Shirt demonstrators spilled out of their fortified rally base, which was under siege by troops.
The protesters, who are trying to bring down the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, threw stones, used slingshots and launched fireworks at the troops.
Three journalists, one of them a Canadian with the France 24 television channel, were shot in their legs and wounded while covering the violence.
Soldiers used tear gas and water cannons against the demonstrators, who set fire to piles of tires in the road, torched an empty police bus and vandalised army vehicles.
Volleys of gunfire rang out through the afternoon, sending people fleeing in panic.
At one point troops fired directly at protesters and then advanced up a road shooting into the air.
At least 33 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured in Bangkok in a series of confrontations and attacks since the protests began in mid-March.
The mood was tense inside the encampment, which has been fortified with razor wire, truck tires doused with kerosene and sharpened bamboo poles.
“Abhisit has already started civil war,” said Nattawut Saikuar, a senior Red Shirt.
“We urgently demand the government withdraw the military and stop all violence,” he said.
“I don’t know how we can survive tonight if Abhisit does not agree to a ceasefire. We hope that Abhisit does not want war.”
The Reds consider Abhisit’s government illegitimate because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling ousted elected allies of their hero, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was unseated in a 2006 coup.
Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term at home for corruption, called on the government to pull back troops and restart negotiations with the demonstrators.
“The government’s actions clearly constitute grave infringement of human rights and criminal offences for which the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and all concerned must be responsible,” Thaksin said in a statement.
Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon said the military operation was meant to force the movement’s leaders back to talks with the government.
Around the protest area, which extends for several square kilometres, soldiers blocked roads and set up checkpoints to seal off the area. The city’s elevated Skytrain was suspended before nightfall.
Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a renegade general allied with the Red Shirts, was fighting for his life after being shot on Thursday evening close to the protest site.
His supporters said he was targeted by a sniper. The army denied any involvement in the incident.
He had a “low” chance of survival, said Chaiwan Charoenchokethavee, the hospital director.
The violence came after Abhisit shelved a plan to hold early elections in November after reconciliation efforts broke down.
The mostly poor and working class Reds initially agreed to enter the peace process but efforts to reach a deal that would see them go home eventually broke down.
Almost one-third of the country, including Bangkok, is now under emergency rule.
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1. a) What is the capital of Thailand?
b) List the countries that border Thailand.
2. Read the “Background” below.
a) Who is the current prime minister of Thailand?
b) Which leader do the Red Shirts support?
c) Why did Thailand’s prime minister withdraw his offer to hold early elections?
3. How many people have been killed and wounded in Bangkok since the latest Red Shirt protests began in March 2010?
4. What demand have the Red Shirts just made of the government?
5. Why do the Red Shirts consider Prime Minister Abhisit’s government illegitimate?
6. Why does ousted Prime Minister Thaksin live outside of Thailand?
7. What was the military’s goal for attacking the blockaded protesters?
8. Approximately how much of Thailand is under emergency rule?
Thailand’s government is a constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses; its chief of state is the king, and the head of government is the prime minister. The king has little direct power under the constitution but is the anointed protector of Thai Buddhism and a symbol of national identity and unity.
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Thailand.
Read about the political protests in Thailand at news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7584005.stm.
Watch a news report on the recent fighting in Thailand below: