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Is Thailand headed for civil war?

As political protest and violence worsens, Thais fear a homegrown “Hotel Rwanda.”

BANGKOK, Thailand — Outside an Au Bon Pain cafe scarred by grenade shrapnel, several hundred Thais gathered to shout down their enemies.

Their enmity was aimed across a busy thoroughfare, past a crude rampart built from bamboo and old tires, and into an urban encampment of the “Red Shirts,” a protest faction hellbent on ousting the government.

Chants of “buffaloes” and “monitor lizards” in Thai — codewords for hicks and scumbags — sounded across the street. On the other side, men peered through their bamboo barrier, smoking cheap cigarettes, gripping wooden clubs and muttering curses of their own.

This is the troubling state of Thailand’s political divide. So bitter is the stand-off between self-proclaimed “commoners” and pro-establishment forces that Thailand’s media, senators and scholars are now openly fretting about civil war.

Why does Thai society fear civil war?

Because years of crippling protests have reached a new low and all sides agree that a resolution appears far off.

In its sixth week, a movement waged by self-proclaimed “commoners” to topple the ruling party has tallied 26 deaths and roughly 900 injuries. The Red Shirts attract a laboring class following, who claim mistreatment under a system of “double standards” favoring urban elites.

They’ve also drawn in new-money business interests and militant hardliners. The movement remains connected to fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, forced out in a 2006 military coup.

As rallies drag on, Bangkok has suffered a rash of mysterious M-79 grenade launcher strikes against symbols of power: banks, ministries and other sites. On April 22, bombings targeted counter-protesters gathering near an elevated rail station. Locals and foreigners alike poured out of a commuter train with chest gashes and bleeding foreheads. More than 75 were injured and one woman died.

“They’re murderers. We’re tired of them killing innocent people,” said Pratheep Salee, 31, an office worker who witnessed the bombings. He is one of many Bangkok residents who’ve gathered recently to hearten Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and call for crackdowns on the Red Shirts.

Private organizations have even pushed for public screenings of “Hotel Rwanda” — Hollywood’s take on the Central African nation’s gruesome civil war — as a cautionary tale for Thailand. This week, prominent news channel Thai PBS aired scenes from the film interspersed with slow-motion footage of Bangkok’s recent bombings and mournful singing.

Senators have convened in parliament to assess the possibility of civil war, according to Thai-language newspaper Kom Chad Luek. And after top broker Kim Eng Securities warned clients of an internal “full-scale war,” the Thai stock market plummeted by 2 percent.

Will Thailand really descend into civil war?