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A military crackdown on Thai protesters hellbent on toppling the government turned nasty this afternoon. More than nine people — soldiers and protesters alike — are reported dead and several hundred are wounded. The melee happened near Bangkok's neon-lit backpacker haven Khao San. Protesters have taken several soldiers hostage.
The Red Shirt protesters — self-proclaimed "commoners" who largely draw from Thailand's laboring class — seem determined to keep fighting. Their goal: driving out the ruling party, which they deem "elitist" and "aristocratic," and forcing new elections. After today's two-hour clash, they're more bitter than ever.
I've just returned from their makeshift headquarters, an occupied portion of old Bangkok. Before a roaring crowd, protest leaders held aloft the corpses of at least two protesters killed in the skirmish. Their family members were on hand, so consumed with sorrow they could barely walk.
Here's my video from the scene.
You'll see that, as the monks blessed the bodies on stage, thousands of protesters clasped their hands in reverence.
Soldiers detained backstage were verbally berated and forced to look at snapshots of a young protester — the one lying dead on stage — with half his head missing. Though the troops looked roughed up, I didn't see any physical abuse. (In fact, protesters tended to their wounds.)
There's another development that's been largely overlooked by the media: the Red Shirt protesters have seized a ton of assault rifles from Thai troops. They're even in possession of a .50-caliber machine gun, which is extraordinarily powerful.