Absence of protest leader at stadium gate seen as one of the reasons for the situation to become violent
Reporters, photographers on the field and a senior police officer in charge of the operation gave their accounts that shed more light on the sequence of events surrounding the deadly clashes at Bangkok Youth Centre, also known as the Thai-Japanese Stadium.
The clashes, which left two people dead and about a hundred injured, took place on December 26, as protesters tried to prevent election candidates from registering their candidacy at the venue.
One reporter from the Nation Multimedia Group said he was there from 7am at Gate 2 of the centre.
“Young protesters began climbing the wall to enter the venue with some of them using a ladder. Police warned them that if they trespassed, the police would be compelled to use tear gas and rubber bullets. But the teenage protesters did not listen and began throwing bottles and wooden debris at police,” said the reporter.
“The protest leader at that time was Amorn [Amornratananont from ASTV], who tried to warn the protesters to calm down, but the young protesters would not heed. [Amorn’s] vehicle then left for another gate, which was about 100 metres away.”
The reporter said then a six-wheeler, attached to a crane, tried to bring down three concrete poles supporting the wall. It was then that the police began firing tear gas. Some three to four canisters were fired. The young protesters then moved to the area between gates 1 and 2 and hurled objects at the police. Some threw fire-extinguisher tanks in the direction of the police.
Amorn’s truck left the area at around 8am and it left a leadership vacuum with the situation becoming more violent. The reporter said the police issued a warning only once and that at least one officer appeared to have used a slingshot in retaliation. One protester was hit by an iron bolt fired from what appeared to be a slingshot.
Pol Lt-General Sophon Pisutwong, who was in charge of the police operation on that day, said they could not give any further warnings as the loudspeaker vehicle was damaged soon after the first warning was given. He attributed the level of violence to the violent intention of some protesters. “It ended like that because they intentionally wanted to see violence,” said Sophon.
What’s more, he said, the protesters realised that the police were not armed with lethal weapons and so they acted as they pleased. The arrest of 14 protesters who were taken inside the centre also was a factor, he said, stressing that police had followed the international standards in handling the crowd.
One Thai news photographer working for a foreign news agency said rubber bullets were fired indiscriminately at one point with four photographers being hit, himself included. On the other hand, he observed protesters tearing down the wall of the centre at a number of spots.
Police vehicles were vandalised by protesters, who managed to enter the centre, and what appeared to be gun shots were heard until this photographer fled by evening due to safety concerns even as the clashes continued late into the evening.
Another news photographer said the violence could be blamed on the fact that the protest leader soon abandoned his men and there was no one to calm the situation down.
“It was later, around 3pm, that protest leader Amorn returned on the back of a truck and ordered the protesters to retreat as they were negotiating with police about those who had been arrested. Most of the protesters retreated except a group of 20-30 young men who continued to throw objects at the police and tried to enter the centre until someone shouted that live bullets were being used. So there was a panic dispersal. I looked ahead and saw a group of some 40 to 50 police officers marching and firing tear gas. Some protesters were hit and fell down, but I don’t know what kind of bullet was used.”
Another newspaper photographer on the ground on that day said that by 4pm the protesters had managed to destroy the wall and enter the site and there were heavy clashes. Bullets were fired, although he was not sure whether they were real or rubber bullets, and the protesters were eventually dispersed.
He said he heard a police officer complaining to his colleagues that their superior had not instructed them whether to attack or retreat and he [the superior] wasn’t even at the site. “The police appeared to be very upset and they released [their anger] by attacking vehicles parked along the route when they were chasing the protesters.”