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Thai troops fire on Red Shirt rioters

Antigovernment Red Shirt protesters add to a burning barricade Thursday in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Antigovernment Red Shirt protesters add to a burning barricade Thursday in Bangkok, Thailand.

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thai troops on Friday fired tear gas and bullets at protesters, who responded with stones, slingshots and homemade rockets, turning parts of downtown Bangkok into a battlefield as the military tried to tighten its cordon around a broad area where the protesters have camped for weeks.

Sixteen people were killed and 141 wounded, according to the government-run Erawan medical center. The fighting followed an assassination attempt on Thursday on a renegade general who had declared himself a protector of the protesters before he was critically wounded by a sniper's bullet.

The government protesters, mostly poor rural residents known as Red Shirts, seized and vandalized several military vehicles. Protesters pulled soldiers from their vehicles and beat them severely. Large explosions and gunfire were heard well into the night.

Although the violence has been confined largely to the city's central area, reports of the political chaos in recent months have hurt tourism, one of the country's main industries.

The army officer who was shot Thursday, Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawatdiphol, was on life support late Friday, and his doctor said his chances of survival were "almost nil."

Thai officials had blamed Khattiya for playing a part in earlier violence. Leaders of the Red Shirts had also disavowed him, but he was supported by a small, hard-line group of demonstrators.

On Friday, amid the sounds of gunfire and explosions, the U.S. Embassy, which is near the disturbances, shut down and offered voluntary relocation to employees who lived near the protest area.

Thai troops fire on Red Shirt rioters 05/14/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 15, 2010 12:49am]
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