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by Nate Thayer of AP TAXI drivers and stockbrokers, students and noodle vendors reacted with defiance when once again the military intervened to block Thailand's road to democracy. And they vented their rage when a military clique turned its guns on civilians to retain power. While nobody is yet predicting that the military's days are over, an opposition stronger than ever has emerged to an army long seen as politicised and not particularly effective on the battlefield. Images of soldiers gunning down unarmed protesters and striking women with their rifle butts will be seared into the minds of millions. Even some soldiers and security officers are openly expressing disgust. "You cannot shoot down the people like falling leaves. I cannot accept what I saw with my own eyes," said Pol Maj-Gen Uthai Asvavilai, a senior police official at the scene where demonstrators were gunned down early on Tuesday morning. "If I am forced to act against my conscience, I will take off my uniform," he said. "We cannot forget soldiers using weapons payed for by taxpayers shooting down Thai citizens," said Jatuporn Prompan, a 26-year-old university student. It appears that a small group of army generals orchestrated the crackdown on a broad-based coalition of pro-democracy demonstrators who took peacefully to the streets to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Suchinda Kraprayoon. At least 40 people have been killed and more than 600 injured since Sunday night. Each volley of shots into the crowd seemed only to galvanise the protesters. More and more came out to support the protests. Thousands also rallied in provincial capitals as word spread of the bloodshed. Coups and military intimidation have been regular features of Thai politics since the military helped topple absolute monarchy in 1932. But this time, the civilians they tried to cow into submission wouldn't budge. "No more military mafia!" was a popular banner strung across downtown streets occupied by more than 100,000 demonstrators, even after troops opened fire. A recent article by Robert Karniol, an editor for the respected military journal, Jane's Defence Weekly, characterised the Thai military as "incapable of organising an effective defence against conventional attack." He said "the few officers who recognise this are ignored by senior staff distracted by non-military pursuits." After a coup in February last year, Suchinda promised to crack down on corrupt government officials. He ordered investigations of a number of ministers of the previous government who were later branded as having amassed illegal wealth. Many Thais were outraged when the same officials were reappointed to Suchinda's newly formed government last month, allegedly by buying their way back into the government. Thailand's increasingly affluent middle class has especially grown intolerant of a military who seem more focused on muscling their way into political power than defending the country.