Thailand scarred by 'Mad Monday'

Wounds from vicious clashes between troops and protesters will take years to heal.

    Bangkok is littered by the scars of Monday's clashes [AFP]

    The people of Bangkok wake to a city scarred with the wounds of war.

    The remaining red shirted anti-government protestors are now blockaded in Government House, the government and the military waiting for the final push.

    But if the government appears to have control of the streets, it is only control that comes from the end of a gun.

    Monday was a day of madness that will tarnish Thailand for years to come, and while the burnt-out bullet ridden buses have been removed from the streets and the shell casings swept up, it is hard to imagine when this country will again be known as the Land of Smiles.

    'Red earth'

    The battle that raged at the Din Daeng intersection was the fiercest of the day.

    In depth

     Interview: Thaksin speaks
     Background: Who's who
     Economy: Vital tourist trade threatened
     Focus: Scarred by 'Mad Monday'
     Interview: What the Red Shirts want
     Timeline: Thai crisis
     Pictures: Red Shirts retreat
     Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
     Video: Thai protesters retreat
     Video: Red Shirt leader speaks
     Video: Thaksin discusses Thailand's troubles

    Perhaps ironically, Din Daeng means red earth.

    Having strategically blocked the crossing that led to Bangkok's main military base, the Red Shirts were pushed back in an early charge by the army at 4am, a clash that left more than 70 wounded.

    By sunrise the battleground had been set, the army at the intersection, the Red Shirts holding the roads to Victory monument and the city centre.

    For several hours the peace held, one protestor even delivering an armful of roses to the ranks of soldiers, a gift for the Thai New Year.

    At this point one wondered if both sides would step down.

    Then it flared in the early heat of the day as the troops tried to intimidate protestors with a drum beat from their batons and riot shields.

    The response was rocks and petrol bombs raining down on their lines as the red shirts made their intent not to back off clear.

    Again, a lull, as representatives of the two sides met in no man's land, the 50m of suburban street that divided them, pledging not to attack first.

    Mayhem erupts

    The army quite clearly was following other orders, however, and as the prime minister appeared on TV calling for calm, mayhem erupted.

    At least two people were killed and more than a 100 people injured in the clashes [AFP]
    Water cannon approached the front lines, prompting the protesters to set alight the buses they had put in the troops' path.

    A gas canister appeared in front of the flaming bus as the protestors announced on a loud speaker that they had put a bomb nearby.

    The tension was unbearable and suddenly snapped as a bus careered towards the front lines.

    Volleys of shots rang out as the soldiers fired into the bus, and over the heads of the protestors. 

    Any claims that the military were using blanks were clearly untrue as the bus ground to a halt, its windows shattered.

    In video

    Interview: What Thailand's 'Red Shirts' are looking for

    The Red Shirts retreated, scattering down the road, as the soldiers gave chase, firing more rounds.

    And then the troops stopped and regrouped, 50m down the road, redrawing their lines and bringing reinforcements from the rear.

    This would have made for an orderly march forward, but the protesters started to push back, sending more buses hurtling down the street, the drivers diving from the vehicles when they got to full speed.

    These huge uncontrollable missiles smashed everything in their path from trees to an electricity pylon, which snapped and sent sparks on to the battle raging below.

    Another volley of shots rang out, as the army tried to push forward, and slowly as the afternoon wore on they made their way to the end of the road.

    But as they advanced, they left a trail of burnt out vehicles, scorched tarmac from burning tyres and huge plumes of black smoke visible from all over the city.

    It did not look like the restoration of order that the government had hoped for, more the final recourse for a government that had run out of options.

    And the commitment of the Red Shirts, who said they would battle to the very end, was clear.

    The government claims no one was killed in these clashes, which would be a miracle given the number of shots fired and the viciousness of the fighting.

    But the scars that now cross the face of Bangkok will take years to heal.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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