Listen to Daniel Schearf as he describes what he saw
when he witnessed shooting of protest leader
A dissident Thai General has been shot and seriously wounded, along with several other people at the site of an anti-government protest in Bangkok. VOA's Daniel Schearf witnessed the shooting which followed a government threat to seal off the protest area to force weeks-long demonstration to end.
Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol was shot in the head while talking to a New York Times newspaper reporter and just as Schearf approached him to ask a question. Seconds later, protest security guards yelled at journalists and on-lookers to stay back as they tried to help the general - also known as Seh Daeng - into a van and to the hospital. After he was driven away, explosions rang out and the protesters, called the Red Shirts, scattered.
One protester, who was trying to get people to leave the area, says soldiers fired a grenade and used live ammunition. The protester said, "A soldier, Thai soldier, he shoot M16 and M79 to Thai people, Red Shirts." But his claims could not be verified in the ensuring chaos.
Thai authorities have accused protesters of hiding guns and grenades. Adding to the confusion immediately following the shooting, demonstrators began lighting fireworks. Some protesters used bamboo poles to break billboard street lights, apparently concerned that snipers would see them.
Earlier in the day, authorities had said they would isolate the protest area using armored vehicles and cut phone connections, water and electricity to pressure the protest to end. A spokesman said the army would also deploy snipers to look for what he called armed "terrorists."
General Seh Daeng was one of the more militant supporters of the anti-government protest. Some accused him of trying to form a paramilitary force among the protesters. Because of his support of the protest, he was suspended from the army and had a warrant out for his arrest.
Authorities have issued arrest warrants for many of the protest leaders who have been labeled "terrorists," after April clashes with security forces that killed more than 20 people.
The protesters have been occupying a central commercial area of Bangkok for two months, demanding that the government, which they say is illegitimate, step down and allow elections.
The government withdrew an offer for early elections in November after protest leaders demanded that officials also face charges for the deaths of protesters.