ONE PROTESTER was killed and four others injured yesterday when gunmen fired in broad daylight at their convoy while travelling on an expressway in Nonthaburi province, in a further inflammation of the political conflict.
The group from the Students and People’s Network for Thailand’s Reform (STR), travelling in a three-vehicle convoy, were returning from a rally led by core protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban at the Chaeng Wattana rally site. The convoy was hit by gunfire as it was passing a tollgate and entering the expressway.
The slain man was travelling in the lead vehicle with STR leaders, while the four injured protesters were in the following two vehicles. At a press briefing, STR adviser Nitithorn Lamlua said the attack showed that police could not be trusted to protect members of his group, adding that the STR would travel with maximum self-defence capability when conducting future activities, and was ready to counter any threat.
The slain man was identified as STR guard Wasan Khamwong. He was pronounced dead at Ramathibodi Hospital, while the four injured people, including two women, were being treated there. The risk of political violence has heightened with the two rival groups organising mass gatherings on Saturday. The pro-government red shirts are set to converge in large numbers around Bangkok, while a key anti-government movement is arranging a meeting of provincial reform councils from across the country at Lumpini Park.
Since November 30, there have been 21 deaths and 733 cases of injuries related to the political strife. The first outbreak of violence, at Rajamangala Stadium, between red shirts and Ramkhamhaeng University students saw five people killed.
The latest violence before yesterday’s incident near the Ratchaprasong protest site saw two children killed in an M79 grenade attack.
United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) chairman Jatuporn Promphan said about 500,000 red shirts would converge at Aksa Road, off Phutthamonthon in western Bangkok. UDD chief adviser Thida Thavornseth said Aksa Road was a good, spacious venue and the gathering on Saturday was also regarded as an exercise that could serve as preparation for an actual battle.
UDD secretary-general Nuttawut Saikuar said there would be no confrontation between the red shirts and the anti-government protesters, but the red shirts were ready to enter Bangkok if there were a military coup.
The gathering was organised by local and provincial red-shirt leaders, however, with the aim to ready them for further mobilisation, possibly moved further inside Bangkok, in case of any sudden development such as a coup, or the appointment of a non-elected prime minister, Nuttawut said.
A meeting of key UDD leaders will be held tomorrow about this further movement, he added. He called on military leaders not to declare martial law aimed at preventing the red shirts from moving into Bangkok.
“The Armed Forces should stay put and remain neutral while a new general election is announced and voting takes place without disruption. With all these [measures], the country can go forward,” he said.
The government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO)'s chief advisor Surapong Tovichakchaikul said police were capable of coping with political gatherings of the two camps under the Internal Security Act.
He said CAPO's chief Chalerm Yoobamrung had repeatedly told Nuttawut to ensure that the red shirts remained peaceful during Saturday’s rally.
Army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military’s stance and security measures remained unchanged to cope with the red-shirt gathering on Saturday.