Image: Thai soldiers in riot gear patrol the streets around the 'Red Shirt' fortified camp in downtown Bangkok
Nicolas Asfouri  /  AFP - Getty Images
Soldiers in riot gear patrol the streets around the Red Shirt camp in downtown Bangkok on Thursday. news services
updated 5/13/2010 2:51:09 PM ET 2010-05-13T18:51:09

A renegade army general accused of leading a paramilitary force among Thailand's Red Shirt protesters was shot in the head Thursday during an interview with a reporter, shortly after the government warned it would shoot "terrorists who carry weapons."

Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, whom the government said masterminded recent anti-government violence, was struck in the head by a bullet while talking with New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller.

Fuller, in an article in the Times, wrote that he was facing the general and about two feet away when he heard a loud bang. The general fell to the ground, with his eyes wide open.

“Seh Daeng has been shot! Seh Daeng has been shot!” protesters shouted, screaming out his nickname. They took his apparently lifeless body to the hospital.

Khattiya was admitted to an intensive care ward, state Narenthorn Emergency Medical Service told Reuters.

In an interview with The Associated Press about 90 minutes before he was shot, Sawasdiphol said he anticipated a military crackdown soon — as security forces moved to seal an area of central Bangkok which has been occupied by thousands of the protesters for weeks.

"It's either dusk or dawn when the troops will go in," he said. He was shot soon after night fell.

An aide who answered Khattiya's mobile phone described the injury as "severe." The AP called Khattiya's phone after several gunshots and explosions were heard late Thursday from the vicinity of the Red Shirt's redoubt in the upscale Rajprasong district.

In a separate incident a Red Shirt demonstrator was shot in the head and died when protesters confronted soldiers next to a park in the Silom business district. Some protesters hurled rocks and troops fired in return.

The victim was identified as a 25-year-old man who was shot.

The Thai government later extended a state of emergency to cover 17 provinces to prevent rural protesters from joining the massive anti-government rally in the capital.

The measure added 15 new provinces to an emergency decree that had already applied to Bangkok and another nearby province.

The decree gives the army broad powers to deal with protesters and places restrictions on civil liberties.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the expanded emergency decree is intended to prevent "masses of people trying to come to Bangkok."

Rural poor
The Red Shirts, many from the rural poor, are demanding an immediate dissolution of Parliament. They believe Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military.

Image: Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol
Pedro Ugarte  /  AFP - Getty Images file
Major-General Khattiya, who was shot on Thursday, is a Thai folk hero famed for his purported jungle warfare exploits.
Tens of thousands of them streamed into the capital on March 12 and occupied an area in the historic district of Bangkok. An army attempt to clear them on April 10 led to clashes that killed 25 people and wounded more than 800. Another four people were killed in related clashes in the following weeks.

Thursday's shooting will only deepen fears of more bloodshed.

The Red Shirts see Abhisit's government as serving an elite insensitive to the plight of most Thais. The protesters include many supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader accused of corruption and abuse of power and ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire who fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, is widely believed to be helping to bankroll the protests. He claims to be a victim of political persecution.

Military lockdown
The reports of Khattiya's shooting came after sounds of gunfire and at least four explosions.

It was not clear who was shooting, but the sounds came after the government said it will impose a military lockdown on the area to evict the thousands of protesters.

Khattiya, who helped construct the barricades paralyzing downtown Bangkok, was accused of creating a paramilitary force among the anti-government protesters and had vowed to battle against the army if it should launch a crackdown.

Video: Thai general shot during interview He was suspended from the army in January and became a fugitive from justice last month after when an arrest warrant was issued against him and two dozen others linked to the Red Shirts for their purported roles in the violence. Yet he has wandered freely through the protest zone, signing autographs just yards from security forces keeping watch over the protesters.

Khattiya bitterly opposed reconciling with the government and had recently become critical of Red Shirt leaders, some of whom had wanted to accept a government proposal to end Thailand's political crisis.

In the AP interview, he accused Red Shirt leaders of taking government bribes to accept Abhisit's reconciliation plan to hold elections on Nov. 14. However, the plan was abandoned after the Red Shirts made new demands and refused to leave.

"The prime minister and the Red Shirts were on the verge of striking a deal but then I came in. Suddenly, I became an important person," he said.

"This time, the people's army will fight the army. There is no need to teach the people how to fight. There are no forms or plan of attack. You let them fight with their own strategies," he said.

Earlier Thursday, an army spokesman, Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, said security forces were preparing to impose a lockdown on the 1-square-mile area where the Red Shirts have barricaded themselves in a posh area of shopping malls, hotels and upscale apartments.

Sansern said armored personnel carriers and snipers will surround the area. Power, public transport and mobile phone service in the area was also suspended.

Sansern said troops will use rubber bullets first but will not hesitate to use live ammunition in self-defense if attacked.

"In addition, another unit of ... sharpshooters will be on the lookout and will shoot terrorists who carry weapons," he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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