(Reuters) – Thai troops fired in the air and shot rubber bullets in a chaotic clash with anti-government protesters on a highway in Bangkok’s suburbs on Wednesday that wounded at least 16 people and possibly killed one soldier.
Troops and riot police tried to stop a convoy of up to 2,000 “red shirt” protesters on pickup trucks and motorcycles who had left central Bangkok in defiance of a state of emergency.
About 100 protesters had moved ahead of the main convoy, charging the troops and riot police, who used batons and shields to push them back. Some red shirts fought back by hurling stones and shooting metal balls from sling-shots, witnesses said.
Three rounds of clashed only stopped when a powerful tropical rainstorm moved over the traffic-choked area about 40 km (25 miles) from central Bangkok on Vipawadee-Rangsit road.
A Reuters photographer said a soldier was shot through his helmet and believed dead.
The photographer, who witnessed the shooting, said the soldier and at least five others were on motorbikes heading toward a cordon of police and troops behind shields when gunfire erupted. It was not immediately clear who shot him.
The state-run Erawan Medical Center said at least 18 people were wounded, but gave no further details. It said it could not immediately confirm that a soldier had been killed.
WIDENING POLITICAL CHASM
The protesters, honking horns and singing, began the day in high spirits, heading for a market 50 km (30 miles) away, leaving thousands of others back at their fortified encampment in central Bangkok, which they have occupied since April 3.
But the latest incident in Thailand’s prolonged political crisis, following last Thursday’s grenade attacks and an April 10 clash that killed a total of 26 people and wounded 900, has raised fears of more violence to come.
The seven-week crisis has further widened a political chasm between the rural masses and working poor that support the red shirts and what they call a “traditional elite” that has long run Thailand. It has also started to squeeze Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.