Thai Troops Take Aim At Democracy -- Protest Toll: 8 Deaths, 250 Injuries, Many Arrests
By Nate Thayer
Monday, May 18, 1992
BANGKOK, Thailand - Troops backed by armored personnel carriers charged into the streets today and arrested hundreds of protesters after a night of clashes with thousands of people demanding the pro-military prime minister's ouster.
At least eight people were killed and 250 were injured in the unrest, according to authorities and hospital officials.
Faced with the largest and bloodiest anti-establishment protest since 1976, the government declared a state of emergency just after midnight.
On national television, Prime Minister Suchinda Kraprayoon said "the government had no choice but to use force" because protesters had been headed toward government buildings.
The protesters say they want Suchinda, a former army chief, to step down because he was not elected. Suchinda spearheaded a military coup last year and had promised not to take over as prime minister.
Thailand's economic boom has since created a middle class that has broadened the interest in democracy and become increasingly fed up with military interference.
Virtually all sectors of society - students, academics, professionals, poor workers, popular entertainers and social and community leaders - have been involved in the anti-Suchinda protests.
Many were drawn to the streets by the example of pro-democracy leader Chamlong Srimuang, who was arrested. Chamlong has a reputation for honesty in the scandal-ridden world of Thai politics.
At dawn today, security forces fired on the pro-democracy demonstrators in an attempt to clear a downtown thoroughfare occupied by about 20,000 people.
This afternoon, troops moved in, firing into the air as they dispersed the several thousand demonstrators who had remained at barbed-wire barricades on Rajdamnern Avenue.
Reporters saw troops beat and kick surrendering demonstrators. People dove to the ground and fled to sidestreets as armored personnel carriers rolled in.
At about 3:30 p.m., reporters saw soldiers handcuff and take away Chamlong. He had been in a van parked in front of the barricades, and told reporters the demonstrators would not compromise in their demand for Suchinda's ouster.
Later, soldiers forced about 200 demonstrators near the barricades to lie on their stomachs. They later herded them, hands tied behind their backs, into army trucks and buses. The demonstrators defiantly sang the national anthem.
Reporters witnessed hundreds of other arrests on sidestreets, where several thousand defiant demonstrators remained this evening, jeering at troops.
On one sidestreet, soldiers firing into the air charged into a Buddhist temple to evict several hundred demonstrators.
The angry crowd, throwing plastic water bottles, rocks and pieces of glass, sent some of the soldiers fleeing.
Maj. Gen. Thitipong Jetnnuwat told reporters before the afternoon action that troops had killed five people in the unrest, including a foreign journalist whom he did not identify.
Eight hospitals contacted said three people were killed and 250 admitted with injuries. But witnesses reported seeing others killed with some bodies being taken away in army trucks.
A total of 58 soldiers and policemen were injured, some shot by protesters, said Col. Bunchon Chawansin, the assistant secretary of the army.
Chamlong said the demonstrators were unarmed and did not shoot anyone.
Bunchon said security forces opened fire after being provoked by some protesters.
The state of emergency allows authorities to conduct dawn-to-dusk searches, detain anyone suspected of being a threat to national security and ban unauthorized gatherings.
In October 1976, students protesting the return from exile of military dictators were attacked by police and mobs on the Thammasat University campus.
Authorities said 41 people died and more than 100 were wounded in the 1976 unrest, which ended in a military coup.
Yesterday's protest began peacefully in the early evening in a large public field adjacent to Bangkok's famed Buddhist temples. The demonstrators then marched along Rajdamnern Avenue toward Government House - Suchinda's office - about a mile away.
They tore down a barbed-wire barricade set up by police and soldiers at a bridge about halfway along the route.
Violence escalated as protesters set bonfires and hurled Molotov cocktails at the security forces.
The mass protests against Suchinda began with a week-long demonstration that ended May 11 after the five parties in the governing coalition promised constitutional amendments that would require the prime minister to be an elected member of the parliament.
Yesterday's rally was called to keep the pressure on for the amendments.