Soldiers armed with assault rifles fought running street battles with anti-government protesters in Bangkok on Monday as unrest spread through a wider swath of the city, and the chief of Thailand’s armed forces vowed to use “every means to end the chaos.”
Two people were killed and more than 113 people were wounded in the clashes, according to hospital officials. Among the wounded were 23 security officers and other government personnel.
Major shopping malls shut their doors, foreign governments advised their citizens in Bangkok, the capital, to stay inside and the government banned the sale of gasoline in the center of the city in an effort to stop protesters from making Molotov cocktails.
“We will not use weapons unless it is necessary to defend ourselves,” said the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces, Gen. Songkitti Jaggabatara. “We will not use them excessively.”
By late evening, security forces had cleared most major intersections, and the protesters were facing off against army and police units in the streets around the prime minister’s office. Hundreds of pro-government vigilantes armed with machetes and clubs were also in the area.
In a separate clash earlier Monday, soldiers fired shots from automatic rifles and tear gas at protesters gathered at a major intersection leading out of the city; the demonstrators answered with gasoline bombs.
The gunfire appeared to be aimed into the air above the protesters, but hospitals reported that more than 70 of them were injured, many from the tear gas. Some news reports said that two demonstrators and two soldiers had been shot and wounded.
The violence came on what is normally a day of animated celebration, the New Year’s water festival. Street parties and revelry continued in some Bangkok neighborhoods untouched by the strife, but the center of the city remained tense. At least a dozen streets were barricaded by protesters, many of whom were armed with clubs and slingshots.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva sought to reassure the nation that the government was carrying out a “step-by-step process to restore order and stop the violence.”