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Songkran Inferno

Songkran Inferno

Two killed in clashes between rioters and angry residents Petrol bombs lobbed at Army HQ, ministry blamed on 'third party' People in the provinces demand an end to the chaos

Bangkok residents affected by yesterday's rioting expressed anger at what they viewed as threats to their communities' safety.

They assembled in large numbers to show how upset they were with the red-shirt protesters, who burned tyres and other objects on the streets and parked commandeered LPG tankers and gas-powered public buses near residential communities in a bid to slow down incoming security forces.

The angry residents chased protesters away and some even clashed with them, threatening to shoot the rioters.

A clash between red-shirt rioters and a group of residents in Bangkok's Nang Lerng area last night left two people dead and nine others injured, with two sustaining serious wounds.

One of the dead was identified as Pom Ponpanbua, a 53-year-old man.

A 19-year-old man, one of the seriously wounded, later succumbed to his injuries.

Relatives of Pom, who was shot in the chest, said the attackers were part of the red-shirt crowds, PM's Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey said in a television interview.

A relative of one of the injured said a group of red-clad men had chased angry residents and opened fire at them.

The red-shirt protesters wreaked havoc in many areas of the city, as security forces started cracking down to enforce the state of emergency that was declared on Sunday afternoon.

The security forces, consisting mostly of soldiers, managed to quell disturbances in most areas previously occupied by the rioters, including Victory Monument and Din Daeng intersection, and were seen closing in on the main protest site outside Government House last night. They are expected to disperse the remaining protesters by early this morning.

Yesterday evening, petrol bombs were hurled into the Army headquarters and the nearby Education Ministry, both of which are located near Government House. The small fires that ensued were extinguished.

Leaders of the red shirts denied responsibility, saying this could be the act of a "third party".

A total of 98 people were injured in clashes between protesters and security forces yesterday, but no deaths were reported, according to the Institute for National Emergency Medicine.

Most of the injuries were not serious and had been caused by tear gas, said Dr Pairote Bunsirikamchai, assistant secretary-general of the institute.

As many as 74 of those sent to hospital sustained injuries early yesterday when the troops cracked down on a rioting mob near the Din Daeng intersection. The institute's secretary-general, Dr Chatri Charoenchivakul, said at least two people had sustained serious injuries - one was shot in the eye and the other in his leg.

However, ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra told CNN that the government was covering up deaths and that the soldiers had killed "many" people even though television broadcasts only showed soldiers firing into the air to disperse the mobs.

"They trapped the people. Many people died. They even took the dead bodies up on the truck and took them away," Thaksin told CNN from an undisclosed location.

Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the troops were only shooting blanks to scare away the rioters. "Reporters and cameramen who accompanied the troops can be our witnesses that we only used blank bullets. We also fired practice bullets that make a loud noise," he said, dismissing claims that many protesters were killed.

The spokesman insisted that there were no deaths during the crackdown.

Shortly after Thaksin's interview, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told CNN that his government had come into power by democratic means and would begin the political reform process once the turmoil is suppressed.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is in charge of the emergency decree, warned of possible acts of sabotage in many areas late at night. Shortly before 8pm, in a live TV broadcast Suthep urged the public to report any suspicious acts in their area.

Apart from Bangkok, civil unrest was also witnessed in several provinces, mostly in the North and Northeast.

In groups numbering hundreds, red-clad protesters set up road blocks in Nong Khai, Chiang Rai, Lop Buri and Lamphun. Many people surrounded state-run NBT television stations in Phrae and Khon Kaen to protest against what they called unfair coverage of the crackdown.

A large group of protesters also gathered at a Thaicom satellite ground station in Pathum Thani to protest against the disruption of broadcasts by the pro-rally D-Station. They were later dispersed by troops who managed to secure the area.

However, there were also groups of people in many provinces who had publicly come out to call for an end to the chaos.

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