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Bangkok ablaze in anarchy
Protesters’ burning tires bring traffic in Thailand’s capital to grinding halt
BANGKOK | Black smoke billowed over downtown streets from rubber tires set ablaze by angry pro-democracy protesters armed with Molotov cocktails, slingshots and fireworks to fend off trained snipers and inexperienced troops.
Four days of clashes between the so-called “Red Shirt” protesters and government troops have left at least 30 people dead and 250 injured amid the chaos in this capital city. The government has dismissed the protesters’ call for a U.N.-brokered settlement.
Thai officials last week began cracking down on the protesters, who have tied up downtown traffic and commerce for two months by barricading a 1-square-mile section of streets with tires, bamboo poles, razor wire and debris.
A flaming barricade of tires on Sunday shifted to a nearby convenience store along Rama 4 Road, burning it to charred wreckage despite efforts by Red Shirts and residents to douse the flames.
Many people fear hard-line protesters might set luxury hotels, malls, condominiums and offices ablaze if the army attacks the Reds’ central rally site at Ratchaprasong intersection, Bangkok’s equivalent to New York’s Times Square.
Those concerns, coupled with the danger widespread civilian casualties, have kept security forces from storming the Reds’ Ratchaprasong stronghold, preferring to surround its outer streets and try to starve protesters into submission.
Setting smaller, makeshift barricades on fire, however, has become the Red Shirts’ favorite tactic to block wide streets and stake out new territory north and southeast of their main encampment, where about 5,000 men, women and children are squatting.
Tall stacks of rubber tires and piles of black garbage bags filled with trash have been erected in countless scattered areas, creating fresh outposts of resistance for Reds against the military.
Many of the newest barricades are set on fire and kept ablaze by emboldened, shouting Reds, who demand the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the dissolution of parliament.
Protest leaders said they wanted the United Nations to mediate talks between them and Thai officials, as long as the government agreed to an immediate cease-fire and pulled its troops back from the barricades.
But the Associated Press reported that government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said a pause was unnecessary since troops were “not using weapons to crack down on civilians.” The government maintains it is targeting only armed “terrorists” among the demonstrators.
Still, trucks continually bring a seemingly endless supply of used tires to reinforce the bonfires in the city known as the “Detroit of Asia,” because it is a major assembly site for automobiles destined for U.S., European, Japanese and other markets.
Defying army gunfire, sweating men ignited stacks of rubber tires at various sites, including Rama 4 Road, a vital, four-lane throughway connecting their central barricaded zone to working-class Bon Kai and Klong Toey neighborhoods to the southeast.
They also burned tires on a major tollway’s exit ramp at Rama 4, blocking civilian and military traffic to Klong Toey.
The Reds’ tactics have vexed the Thai army.
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About the Author
Carleton Bryant is the assistant managing editor for strategic planning and development/special projects for The Washington Times. He previously served as The Times’ Metropolitan desk editor, Features desk editor and an assistant National desk editor, as well as a National and Metropolitan reporter. He currently writes a humor blog and weekly humor column — both titled “Out of Context” — ...
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