BANGKOK // Thai troops opened fire on "Red Shirt" protesters yesterday during a tense confrontation on a highway in Bangkok's northern suburbs that left one soldier dead and 18 people injured. The demonstrators hurled rocks at soldiers and riot police who used coils of razor wire to block their convoy on a major road heading out of the city, where they have been rallying for weeks in a bid to overthrow the government.
Troops fired into the air and also directly at the Red Shirts as the standoff between the two sides spilled over from the protesters' fortified rally base in the heart of the capital, which is under a state of emergency. It was the third bout of bloodshed in recent weeks in Bangkok, where 27 people have died and almost 1,000 have been injured this month in the country's worst political violence in almost two decades.
Many of the Red Shirts come from Thailand's rural poor and urban working classes and seek the return of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption. It was unclear whether troops were using live ammunition but the army has warned protesters they could face real bullets in any clashes. Officials said earlier that security personnel had fired warning shots.
One soldier died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head during the clashes, while two more soldiers and 16 civilians were wounded, some of them seriously, medical officials said. The Reds Shirts - who want immediate elections to replace the prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government - accused troops of using "war weapons" against them, and said the soldier was a victim of friendly fire. "He was shot by people on the same side as him," the protest leader Jatuporn Prompan said.
About 2,000 protesters had earlier moved out of their sprawling rally site in pick-up trucks and on motorcycles, saying they wanted to hand out leaflets about their cause. Many others remained at the fortified camp. The clashes erupted near Bangkok's number two airport Don Mueang International, which is about 25km from the main rally site and handles mostly charter and domestic flights. The Reds have beefed up their base's defences with barricades made from truck tyres and bamboo stakes. On Tuesday the protesters blocked city trains.
* Agence France-Presse