Dhamma Army vows not to surrender

Dhamma Army vows not to surrender

Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue is strewn with overturned and smashed police vehicles, the aftermath of Tuesday’s clash between the authorities and protesters, but anti-government demonstrators from the Dhamma Army are vowing to hold on to their protest site whatever the cost.

Wearing a yellow headband with the words "Fight for the nation" written across it, 62-year old Sumas Tongnak was emboldened by the clash that left four protesters and a police officer dead. Sitting on the back of a pickup truck with other protesters she said: ‘’I am not afraid despite the clashes. People here can die for Thailand. They won’t be easily defeated by the appearance of guns.’’

The Public Health Ministry reported yesterday that in addition to the five dead, the incident left 71 others injured. Of them, 52 were civilians and 19 police officers.

The clash occurred after police tried to reclaim the protest site at Phan Fah Bridge after the Dhamma Army had earlier retreated from part of it. The authorities and the protesters blame each other for the violence, but it was clear elements from both sides were armed. Police were attacked with grenades and gunfire but they also fired live rounds at protesters.

Ten vehicles belonging to the police — five pickup trucks, two minivans, two tractors and a 10-wheel truck — were abandoned on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. They are now covered in graffiti.

Despite Tuesday’s bloodshed, more newcomers arrived at the Dhamma Army protest site yesterday morning.

Many of the protesters walked around inspecting the carnage and taking pictures with the smashed and overturned vehicles. Piles of tyres were also scattered along the avenue.

Somkiat Pongpaiboon, a protest leader at the site, was spotted walking round even though he had been arrested by police on Tuesday during the clash. He claimed to have been rescued from a police wagon by five unidentified "men in black".

A Dhamma Army source who negotiated with police on Tuesday before the clash said the first round of negotiations ended with an agreement that protesters would open part of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue.

Police negotiators then left but returned later to demand the opening of the whole avenue.

Before the second round of negotiations could be completed, the source claimed the police broke into the protest site. The protesters tried to resist their advance, which resulted in the clash.

The Bangkok Post spoke to five other eyewitnesses, who told the same story.

Police maintained their operation to reclaim protest sites was carried out in accordance with the correct procedures.

A 56-year-old protester who identified himself only as Mana said he was among more than 100 male protesters on the front line during the clash at Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. He saw three people fall to the ground after gunshots rang out. But he and other protesters were adamant they would stay and continue their fight.

"The clashes made us realise that we have to stay here to protect others. We won’t leave until we win," Mr Mana said.

Some Dhamma Army protesters attended the funeral of clash victim Supoj Boonrung, 52, at a Muslim cemetery on Srinakharin Road. One told the Bangkok Post he saw Supoj get shot in the head. He thought the shot came from the rooftop of a nearby building.

None of the witnesses saw who threw grenades or fired weapons at riot police.

"It happened so fast," one protester said. "It was hard to see where the bombs or bullets came from."

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