Thai general among 36 dead

A renegade Thai general allied with “Red Shirt” anti-government protesters died in hospital on Monday as the toll from three days of clashes between demonstrators and troops hit 36, officials said.

Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol, known as Seh Daeng, was shot on Thursday night during an interview with a foreign reporter near the area where thousands of anti-government “Red Shirt” protesters have been camped for weeks.

The escalating violence has turned parts of the city into no-go zones as troops use live ammunition against anti-government demonstrators, who have blocked streets with burning tyres and fought back with homemade weapons.

Watch our April slideshow for photographs and an audio summary of the Thailand protests. The capital has ground to a halt as red shirt protesters continue to demand the removal of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from power, protests which have led to outbreaks of violence.

An official with Bangkok’s emergency medical centre said two more people had died overnight, including a member of the military,
taking the toll from three days of battles to 36 dead, including Seh Daeng.

He said 244 people had been wounded, including six foreigners.

The death of the high-profile Red supporter came as authorities repeated a call for protesters — particularly women, children and the elderly –to leave their vast encampment by 3.00 pm (08.00 GMT) on Monday.

The emergency medical centre official, speaking about the death of Seh Daeng, said: “I learned that he died this morning.”

Denial
The outspoken general, 58, had been in intensive care since he was shot, which coincided with the start of a government effort to seal off the Red Shirts’ protest site by cutting power and blocking roads.

As part of the operation, the army had warned it would deploy snipers but denied shooting the general.

Elsewhere, guests at a luxury hotel in the city of 12 million people were forced to shelter in the basement after the building came under gunfire and was rattled by an explosion in the early hours of Monday morning.

Fire gutted three commercial buildings in another area.

With no apparent end in sight to the two-month crisis, a top protest leader urged the country’s revered king, hospitalised since September, to intervene.

Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej chastised both the military and protest leaders during a 1992 uprising, effectively bringing the violence to an end, but has avoided commenting publicly on the current crisis.

Ready for talks
The Reds also said they were ready to enter peace talks as long as the United Nations mediated but the government, which has repeatedly warned foreign governments not to meddle in its affairs, rejected the call.

The protesters accuse Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s administration of being undemocratic and elitist. They have been pushing for the government to stand down and call fresh elections.

Abhisit last week shelved a plan to hold early elections — which the Red Shirts initially agreed to — because the protesters refused to disperse.

The Red Shirts consider the government illegitimate because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling ousted elected allies of their hero, telecoms tycoon turned former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The worsening violence has seen more areas city become off-limits.

At the Dusit Thani hotel, on the fringe of the Reds’ fortified encampment, guests rushed to the basement when staff warned them the hotel was under attack, according to an AFP journalist inside.

“I was in bed. There was a big explosion very close to my room. I went out of the room, other people did too and at that moment the wall outside was hit by bullets,” the photographer said by telephone.

It was unclear where the shooting came from.

Closed embassies
Australia closed its embassy to visitors on Monday. The US and British embassies have already closed.

The government extended a state of emergency to five more provinces, ordered schools to stay shut Monday and declared two days of national holidays to keep civilians off the streets as they battled for control of the city.

The crisis has now left 66 people dead, including Seh Daeng, and about 1 700 wounded. Twenty-five people died in a failed army crackdown on April 10. — AFP

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