Thai Protests Escalate in Bangkok "War Zone"

The streets of Bangkok devolved into violence over the weekend as soldiers launched a crackdown on red shirt protesters, bringing the official death toll since Thursday to 35 in Thailand's deadliest conflict in two decades. The Washington Post described conditions in downtown Bangkok as a "war zone."

The protests have been ongoing since March, but the new outburst of chaos was prompted by the assassination on Thursday of renegade general Khattiya Sawatdithol, who sided with the mostly rural and poor red shirt protesters. He was shot in the head by a sniper while being interviewed by a reporter for the New York Times, who wrote a haunting first-hand account of the incident. Thai media reported the general's death on Monday.

The some 5,000 protesters are now hunkered down in an encampment in central Bangkok. Their leaders said Sunday that they were willing to participate in U.N.-brokered peace talks, but the government balked, wary of granting their opponents U.N. legitimacy. The Bangkok Post shares their aversion to outside intervention. A government spokesperson told Reuters peace talks could go forward as soon as the riots ceased, adding an offer of safe passage for any protesters who want to leave the camp. Troops brought in buses, but no protesters appeared ready to take the government up on its offer.

That may be because the fate of the red shirt leaders is still in question. A week ago, those leaders appeared to be close to accepting a government offer of a new election in November, which they would likely win. But while the government has offered amnesty for the bulk of the protesters, it has deemed the actions of hard-core leaders to be criminal, raising fears within the encampment that they would be killed once they emerged.

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The New Republic and the Council on Foreign Relations both have excellent primers on the political grievances that led to the standoff and the rule of law issues that must be resolved once it ends.

Thai Protests Escalate in Bangkok "War Zone" | World