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Bangkok ablaze; two journalists killed and several others wounded

Protesters torched Bangkok in revenge this week after the Thai army dismantled red shirt demonstrations in the centre of the city
Protesters torched Bangkok in revenge this week after the Thai army dismantled red shirt demonstrations in the centre of the city

via AP

Downtown Bangkok has spiralled into a flaming battleground after close to two months of anti-government protests, with at least 39 dead, including two journalists killed in clashes, and hundreds wounded. Thai troops broke through the encampment of red shirts today, cracking down on the movement and triggering more violence, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and other IFEX members. The media have taken a heavy toll - several media outlets were targeted or closed down to protect staff, and other journalists have been shot and wounded. The government has imposed a night-time curfew across the country.

Although several red shirt leaders surrendered and called off the protests, protesters reacted by setting fire to the stock exchange, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store complex, banks, and attacking newspaper offices and a television station. The protests have now spread to northeast Thailand where demonstrators torched more buildings.

Throughout this red shirt fury over social injustice, the media has been under constant attack from all sides. The government has tried to control the flow of information by blocking websites, and shutting down satellite TV channels that it claims were inciting violence and promoting red shirt propaganda. Journalists and media outlets have been attacked by protesters who accused the media of biased coverage.

Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi died after being shot in the chest during the recent offensive, and at least three demonstrators were killed. A Dutch reporter Michel Maas and a US documentary filmmaker suffered from gunshot wounds. The army shoots "everything that's moving and don't ask if you are a reporter before shooting," said Maas. Another journalist was wounded in a grenade attack in the capital on 19 May.

Rioters set fire to the Channel 3 building, a government TV station, and set 10 news vehicles ablaze, reports SEAPA. Several media organisations, including the "Bangkok Post" and "The Nation", sent staff home, fearful that mobs would attack the compounds.

"About 100 employees of the Channel 3 TV station were trapped on the roof of their high-rise office, but most were later rescued by helicopter," reports "The Guardian". Meanwhile, radio stations sympathetic to the red shirts have aired "incendiary commentary," says SEAPA.

After government troops cordoned off the protesters' site by cutting off water and electricity and setting up roadblocks to prevent red shirts from joining their comrades last week, three journalists were wounded in skirmishes on 14 May. Canadian journalist Nelson Rand, working for France 24 TV channel, was shot three times. Subin Namchan, a photographer for the Thai-language newspaper, "Matichon", and Supawat Wanchantha, cameraman for Thai Voice TV Channel, were both shot in the legs. The next day, Thai reporter Chaiwat Poompuang, working for "The Nation", was also shot in the leg while covering clashes.

On 13 May, "International Herald Tribune" reporter Thomas Fuller narrowly missed being killed when a sniper fired a bullet into the head of a red shirt rebel commander whom he was interviewing. On 10 April, Reuters journalist Hiro Muramoto was shot and killed while covering fighting between protesters and security forces.

Attacks on the press "will ultimately deprive Thais of the information, news and commentary they need to understand and navigate these perilous days," said SEAPA. The press freedom organisation is also urging journalists to not take sides and to provide reliable information.

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