And violence erupted in Bangkok once again. Twenty-one people are dead and scores are injured as the government decided to disperse the crowd in the old part of Bangkok.
Early in the afternoon of Saturday, the tension was already palpable. Riot police in full gear were gathering not far from the demonstrations and indeed some skirmishes took place near the UN building, with teargas and fire trucks supposedly used against the crowd. Reading this on the the internet, I thought it was as bad as it can get. For months now the demonstrations had rather been not violent.
Later in the afternoon, however, I noticed a couple of helicopters hovering above my area (again, I live not far from the main site of the protest). I also heard what sounded like firecrackers.
I learned much later on that the helicopters were dropping tear gas and that riot police fired rubber bullets at the crowd. The epicenter of the clashes was around the Democracy Monument as well as the tourist enclave of Khao San Road.
For the entire evening, I sat in front of the computer being fed mainly by Twitter updates of journalists, eyewitnesses, and tourists. It turned out to be a bloody confrontation between the government and the demonstrators, with deaths and injuries on both sides.
Within the evening, photos of the injured red shirts were posted on the internet. One young man had his head blown off. His corpse, along with another man, was brought to the main stage of the demonstration for everyone to see.
See one man's coverage of the violence in the videos below.
Last night, Bubbles, E, and I visited Khao San. Anyone who had been to Khao San before knows very well that as the center of cheap guesthouses in Bangkok, the area is always teeming with tourists. Backpackers from all over the world constantly spill over its streets and stalls of souvenirs, food, books, clothes cram the already crowded street in an atmosphere of blasting music and a cacophony of a dozen languages spoken by scruffy travelers.
What we found last night, however, was a relatively quiet street of shuttered stores and a few tourists drinking in the handful of bars that managed to stay open. It's definitely not the Khao San that we used to enjoy.
Around the intersection, barricades were still set up. Some of them were guarded by the red shirts. I even found this boy, perhaps not more than ten years old, armed with a baton and a shield.
Tomorrow, celebrations for the Buddhist New Year, or Songkran, officially starts. I wonder if anyone has the wherewithal for any festivity after the bloody turn of events.
Meanwhile, as everyone tries to escape from Bangkok for the week-long holidays, Bubbles and I are heading to Khmerlandia to meet the queen... Fuchsiaboy!