In line of fire at Bangkok protests

May 17, 2010
A man is dragged to safety after being shot on Rama IV Road during clashes between army soldiers and anti-government ‘red shirt’ supporters in Bangkok on Sunday. (Reuters/Jerry Lampen)

may 16 7It was 2 a.m. on a Friday morning and we were stuck in the Reuters office on the 35th floor of the U Chu Liang Building. Thai anti-government protesters had begun rioting after their military strategist, a flamboyant major-general known as  “Commander Red” was shot in the head as he was being interviewed by the New York Times at the “red shirt” protest encampment that occupies a huge chunk of expensive real estate in the Thai capital.

The protesters had swarmed into our parking lot, troops hot on their heels. One red shirt was shot dead, taking a bullet through his eye, outside our office.  Our managers  had ordered us to evacuate, but we had to wait until the violence died down outside.  I strapped on a 10 kg flak jacket and helmet emblazoned with “press stickers”, took a ride down the cargo elevator in a building under emergency power, and stepped carefully into the parking lot, looking around to see if it was safe for the remaining people in the newsroom to leave. It was quiet, as I crept around the parking lot, dodging from car to car, feeling slightly ridiculous. A taxi was parked just outside. I was beginning to understand what gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson meant when he said in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:  “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

I was about to enter the taxi,  when BOOM! The sound of a grenade maybe 50 metres away, followed by the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic gunfire. I jumped into the taxi, and told the driver to take me to my hotel. Quickly please. “Boom!”, he said, and laughed. “Boom, boom,boom,” he added, mimicking the act of firing a gun. And laughing once more we drove off into the terrifying night.

For the past four days, journalists have been moving out of their offices into hotels, and then out of their hotels into ones further from the combat zone, as violence escalated across the city of 15 million people in random urban warfare. The military was firing at groups of protesters setting up barricades of burning tyres, behind which they hurled petrol bombs and projectiles with slingshots. At least five journalists have been among the seven foreigners shot. One journalist took a bullet in the chest, but since he was wearing a heavy flak jacket, he just fell down and hurt his back.

A Canadian journalist working for a French television station was not as well protected. He was shot three times — in the arm, leg and abdomen — while covering the protest on Friday, but was recovering in hospital. The spiralling violence that has turned Bangkok’s bustling business district into a war zone has killed 37 people and injured nearly 270 since Thursday. A Reuters television cameraman, Hiro Muramoto was among those killed in the  melee of an April 10 protest that marked the point at which these protests that began rather festively turned violent.

I have moved hotels three times in the past week, as the combat zone widenedthai may 16 4

An anti-government protester uses his slingshot during clashes with   the Thai army in central Bangkok 16/05/2010 (Reuters/Damir Sagolj)

I was the last guest to leave the splendid Metropolitan Hotel on Sathorn Road on Saturday. The night before, I had walked back late at night on that road toward a line of soldiers metres away, who were firing on a group of  protesters, muzzle flashes punctuating the darkness. 

“I’m so happy you’re going,”  the general manager told me. “We’ ve told all our guests not to come.”  He then personally took my bags down the road to the five-star Sukhothai, weaving our way through soldiers and gawking tourists taking combat pictures with their camera phones, chattering excitedly about how bizarre it all was.

On Sunday night, a rocket — fired by who knows — smashed into the 14th floor of the Dusit Thani hotel and set a room ablaze.  Guests, including a number of foreign journalists were rousted from their rooms and sent to cower in the basement until dawn. 

Residents have turned to social media to update each other about what’s going on, tweeting frenetically and exchanging Youtube videos to make a case, one way or another, about who’s more responsible for the violence that has now killed 66 people and wounded 1,600 since the protests began in mid-March.  A number of tweets have expressed outrage about foreign media coverage of the protests.

Some witnesses say the army has been shooting at journalists, medical workers, and innocent bystanders. But the government on Monday blamed that on a militant wing of the red shirt, saying they wanted to make troops look bad and escalate the conflict. 

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The truth is so obvious.
the killer is military and this evil government

your reporter see with your own eyes that Red guards have no gun weapon. And yet, there are someone shot.
the bullet must come from the gun.
the military even open “live-fire zone” and they aim directly at people.
So, how people are dead is not that hard to think of.

don’t worry about what some Thai people blamed about foreign media.
Becuase here in Thailand, Thai social medias are nothing but microphone of government.
They just give one-way news tell “Red-shirts is terrerists” and this evil government will kill innocent people as mush as they want.

Posted by Dot_Link | Report as abusive

In depth, some protesters are guerillas. I agree with govt to suppress the rebelling children.

Posted by sroongap | Report as abusive

Here’s a novel idea. What if the press stopped glorifying the Red Shirts. What if the press stopped lapping up the garbage and lies the red shirts spew forth and regurgitating it for the rest of the world. Maybe all the sympathy they have created for the red shirts would wither and die and the red shirts would find themselves reviled and despised as they are here in Thailand by the VAST MAJORITY of Thais! No, couldn’t happen. Dan Rivers and others are so full of themselves they can not write what is but what they think is or what they are told without looking into what is behind the smoke the red shirts are so brazenly blowing in their eyes. The red shirts are terrorist not freedom fighters.

Posted by Sonnyjc9 | Report as abusive

It could be a way that media tend to be, namely, trying to present themselves as the “nice guys” or the “kind persons.” Thus, in the absence of real knowledge of the situations, they tend to present themselves as such. Even in cases that they had some or all of the information, they would still preferred to position themselves as the champion of human rights and civil rights, except only in very extreme cases involving their own home folks being victimized by the terrorists.

The fight in Thailand now is between the law, that is the government that must assure a society operating under the rule of laws, and their opponents to laws, that is those that have committed all the violation of a society’s rules broke all the laws. What’s more, they have been doing so, in a threatening stance to the country and the people, to push for the favorable treatment of an ex-prime minister who himself has broken many of the most critical laws of Thailand.

I would rather encourage the international presses to research multiple sources with multiple stances before coming to any conclusion that might prove to be false and self-degrading later.


Posted by mahwatthai | Report as abusive

The true cause of this catastrophic event IS NOT brought to discussion. No. Most Thai people know what it is, but they are too afraid to say anything about it openly, I myself included.

Posted by Rods | Report as abusive

What the democracy the red-shirt wants?, they are trying to destroy their homeland. The peaceful country will collapse by RED-SHIRT

Posted by jee4134 | Report as abusive

The protest is not peaceful. They are armed to teeth. Even CNN reporters have captured video of a black hood figure carrying machine guns walking among protesters. That’s why the effort to disperse the group with riot polices last month was failed. They were met with M79 and live bullets!
Yesterday, the protester even tried to burn down building and detonate a gas truck and the government is stupid enough to do nothing because they are too afraid that their image will be bad in the eyes of foreigners.

I would like to ask if this is happening in Paris, what would you do?

Posted by Mountain_Lotus | Report as abusive

Pictures from pro-government newspapers have and has shown protestors using catapult, homemade firework rockets, burning tires and throwing molotov cocktails.
The same newspaper shows pictures of army using shot guns (to cause max damage at short range), sniper rifles and AK-47. Take your pick as to which side is over board.
Police should be deployed to disperse protestors, singularly man hand-handle if necessary, put them in lock-up and slap them with civil charges for illegal congregation. and willful damage of public properties. The government choose to use the military instead.

Posted by cityzone | Report as abusive

The red shirt are armed with all heavy weapon, M79, bomb. They hide behind a baby. Is this a peaceful manner. We all hate red shirt. We all hate Taksin. We all hate policemen. They fire innocent people. Red shirt, GO TO HELL!!

Posted by Iloveourking | Report as abusive

Please calm down. Hate is part of the reason why Bangkok is in chaos.
Anyhow, as I said, Thai government already tried to use riot police. It was successful last year and they had tried it last month. However, they got heavy resistance from machine of war.
If the government really want to use military force, don’t care human lives and don’t care its image, the protest would be ended by now. Do you think what would stop them?

Posted by Mountain_Lotus | Report as abusive

you dirty liars! watch the videos! the reds are terrorists, total thugs with machine guns, m79s. its on video! check youtube. you’re a red shirt and a total liar. soldiers have only rubber bullets. if the soldiers were killers, they would have stormed the 1 mile radius already.
thee are just violent thugs. how about the 12 year old boy arrested for arson? pulling the army from trucks and shooting them unprovoked?

Posted by blackpagoda | Report as abusive

why reuters have to lie? I don’t understand your logic

Posted by Dot_Link | Report as abusive

To characterize the Thai government as restoring law and order is ridiculous. No one seems to have pointed out that the State of Emergency that the government has declared to suppress protest is illegal! The SOE was legal under the 1997 constitution that was thrown out by the military coup of 2006. The current constitution has no SOE law. Therefor the government is acting illegally and should immediately cease this military suppression.

Posted by Livinghere | Report as abusive

What’s the point of saying: ‘GO TO HELL!’ and ‘Reuters is lying!’. Do you really think you can bend the foreign media? Yes in Thailand you have the government to back you up, but it’s so stupid of you to think it will work outside of Thailand. They say, if you want to hide something from a Thai person, put it in a book. I suggest you guys read something about your own government.

Posted by el_mariachi | Report as abusive

Those people who think “Resters is lying” are so stupid. The reason to read from foreign media is, need to know the truth. Most of Thai media report only one-side news.

Posted by Thaippl | Report as abusive

“Some witnesses say the army has been shooting at journalists, medical workers, and innocent bystanders.”
—–Reuters, this is a serious allegation. Can you really verify this? You made it sound so convincing at first by describing your authentic experience but then blended this unwarranted allegation into your report. This is really shameful.
p.s. then again, rereading your report remind me of some stereotypical hollywood film on Thailand. What are you trying to do?

Posted by lukthai | Report as abusive

As to witnesses of soldiers firing at medical workers, there is a video on Youtube taken near Victory Monument where an ambulance is seen racing from down the street and stopping near to the camera man. The paramedic gets out and says “Those SOB soldiers were shooting at us!” All this is in Thai language unfortunately and not many outside of Thailand will see or understand this video.

As to evidence of soldiers shooting at medical workers/journalists – umm, you have read the news about the France 24 reporter who was shot 3 times? And the photographer for The Nation who was shot? And the PTV photographer who was also shot? And the dead Thai paramedic who was shot in the head by sniper fire? And the other dead paramedic who was shot in the face, whose parents’ appeared at a press conference? Do you need more evidence?

Posted by Livinghere | Report as abusive

I appreciate the passionate comments on this post. The last line in my blog post did try to convey both sides of the issue. Many witnesses say they saw the army appear to take aim at unarmed protesters. The last sentence, however, gives the government’s view: “But the government on Monday blamed that on a militant wing of the red shirt, saying they wanted to make troops look bad and escalate the conflict.”

I suspect, as is often the case, the truth is somewhere between those two statements.

Posted by bill_tarrant | Report as abusive

Bill, you’ve been accused of lying by both sides. A great sign of neutrality. Keep on the good works. Keep your crew safe.

There’re always many versions of truth. I don’t always agree with Reuters’ version. Nonetheless it’s the version that I am most often comfortable with. Reuters’ journalistic professionalism has never been in doubt.

Posted by 4BKK | Report as abusive