By Jocelyn Gecker and Vijay Joshi ASSOCIATED PRESS
BANGKOK (AP) — Soldiers opened fire on anti-government protesters who battled them with firebombs and homemade rockets Friday in a second straight day of escalating violence as troops tried to clear the rioters from the streets of downtown Bangkok.
The clashes have killed 16 people and wounded 157, including two soldiers, since authorities began Thursday to try to seal off the upscale neighborhoods occupied by the protesters, the government said. The troops used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds on demonstrators, who set fire to tires and a police bus.
Explosions echoed through streets emptied of shoppers and tourists, plumes of black smoke rose amid skyscrapers and hotels, and the deteriorating security raised concerns that Thailand — a key U.S. ally with Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy — was teetering toward instability because of the two-month political crisis.
The Red Shirt protesters began their campaign to oust the government in March, saying it came to power illegitimately and is indifferent to the poor. In several rounds of violence since then, 37 people have been killed and more than 1,400 wounded.
Protesters have urged 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej to end his long silence and intervene, but there was no word from the widely revered ailing monarch.
The latest violence erupted Thursday after the Red Shirts’ military strategist — a former Thai general — was shot and seriously injured, apparently by a sharpshooter, as he spoke to foreign journalists. One protester was fatally shot later Thursday and four were killed Friday, the army said. Among the wounded were two Thai journalists and a Canadian reporter — all from gunfire.
Witnesses saw several groups of a dozen or more people detained at the scene of several clashes. No figures were released on how many were detained.
As night fell, defiant Red Shirt leaders led followers in Buddhist prayers and called on volunteers to bring more tires for their barricades.
“Death cannot stop us civilians from continuing our fight,” said Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader.
The Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, began camping in the capital March 12 to try to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They claim his coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military.
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