Thai Army Takes Control Of Protest Zone

Seven leaders of Thailand's Red Shirt protesters have surrendered to authorities after a deadly army assault on their fortified encampment. Two protesters and an Italian photographer were killed in the assault. Thomas Fuller of the International Tribune talks to Renee Montagne about the violence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We have an important development today from Thailand, where red-shirted protesters have occupied the heart of Bangkok for weeks and several deadly clashes have taken place. This morning, army troops launched an assault on the protestors, breaking through bamboo and tire barricades and taking control of the encampment that they were in. Later, several protest leaders surrendered, saying they're doing so to prevent more bloodshed. For more on what's happening, we turn to Thomas Fuller of the International Herald Tribune, who's been following the events in Bangkok.

Good morning.

Mr. THOMAS FULLER (International Herald Tribune): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What has it been like today since the army began moving into the center of the city?

FULLER: It's been very, very chaotic. We've had a lot of explosions. We've had several deaths, including one journalist and two protestors. I think the toll will probably rise. And we've had - I guess you'd call it a lot of sabotage.

As we speak, protestors or militants - it's really unclear who is who at this point - are trying to set the large shopping mall on fire. And there's a generalized chaos in the main commercial district of Bangkok.

MONTAGNE: It sounds, then, like, at - for the moment, the army has not fully taken control.

FULLER: The army, just a few minutes ago, said they had taken control. I don't think that's true. From what we see, it's still mayhem.

MONTAGNE: Now, the protestors are known as Red Shirts. Remind us what they are demanding from the government, in brief.

FULLER: Well, the protest movement stems from the 2006 military coup that removed a prime minister who was very popular with the urban and rural poor. There's been resentment building up. It's a longer story than that, because this prime minister who was deposed, Thaksin Shinawatra, his allies came back to power, but now they're out of power.

We've had several sets of different protestors in the streets. But this round has been about resentment against that coup, and also probably, and very importantly, the government said - we don't know the facts - but the government says that a lot of this unrest is being sponsored, or at least encouraged by the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

It's a very, very shadowy, opaque situation right now. There are militant groups out there firing against the military. And we just - we really don't know who is whom.

MONTAGNE: Why did the army decide today to move in and clear out the camp?

FULLER: Well, the protest has been going for more than two months. They came in on March 12th, and they moved to this commercial district in early April. There've been lots of negotiations. The negotiations have failed. And the government decided last week to try and encircle the protest, because they wanted to choke off supplies to this area.

This whole area, as I said, the commercial heart of Bangkok, has been shutdown. It's been paralysis in the middle of Bangkok. The government wanted to stop that.

As they were going through with this encirclement, a rogue general, who deports the protestors, was assassinated, probably by a sniper. And that set off violence that we've had for the last five days, in which more than 40 people have been killed and around 300 have been injured.

MONTAGNE: Thomas Fuller with the International Herald Tribune speaking to us from Bangkok.

Thank you very much.

FULLER: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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