BANGKOK (Reuters) – The Thai army has started a crackdown on anti-government protesters and shooting was heard as they moved to secure a major junction in the capital, forcing back hundreds of protesters, a Reuters reporter said on Monday.
An army spokesman said that soldiers trying to clear a main road in Bangkok were shot at by protesters before dawn, and had fired back. Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd told a radio station that troops fired into the air first in response to tear gas and smoke bombs thrown at them by protesters but then fired real bullets.
The Reuters reporter said protesters threw stones and retreated to side streets. Fires blazed in the middle of Viphavadi-Rangsit, a main thoroughfare out of the city going to its north, close to Victory Monument.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Sunday and threatened to take tough action against protesters who had gathered in Bangkok.
Troops fired into the air when anti-government protesters stormed the interior ministry on Sunday. The crowds mobbed the prime minister’s car and beat it with clubs as he drove away from the ministry.
Supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra triggered the emergency the previous day when they pushed past riot troops into the venue of a major Asian summit in the southern resort of Pattaya, forcing the meetings to be canceled. Some leaders had to flee by helicopter.
After declaring victory there, the “red shirt” Thaksin supporters gathered at Government House in central Bangkok. By Sunday evening they numbered around 40,000.
The protesters set up makeshift road blocks and men, some with sticks, manned the barricades. Near midnight, the crowd remained large, although some had begun trickling home.
Thaksin, who has been making nightly phone calls to his supporters from exile, said on Sunday it was now the “golden time” to rise up against the government.
He repeated his call for a “people’s revolution” and said he was ready to move back to Thailand to lead a people’s uprising if there was a coup.
Thailand has seen 18 coups since 1932 and another one is certainly a possibility if there is blood in the streets.
After midnight (1700 GMT), however, Abhisit appeared on television to dispel any talk of a possible military coup.
“I can confirm that the government and security agencies are still unified. You can see all the heads of the armed forces meeting with me right now,” he said. The camera panned to the commanders of the army, navy, air force and deputy police chief.
(Editing by Jon Boyle and John Chalmers)