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Violence escalates in Thailand

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (BP)–Gunshots and explosions could be heard in downtown Bangkok Wednesday (May 19) only hours after the Thai government launched a major initiative against anti-government protestors in the capital city.

“It has been going on steady for several hours now,” reported Doug Olive*, one of several International Mission Board missionaries based in Bangkok.

“All of our [personnel] in Bangkok are all right,” said Dwight Chittum*, an IMB risk management consultant in Thailand. “They are weary but prepared for what lies ahead. There is no power in some parts of the city, which includes the office compound.”

Initial reports indicate the government push against the protesters was successful. Seven leaders among the protesters, also known as Red Shirts, surrendered to authorities but violence erupted following the arrests. Protestors set fire to banks, stores and government buildings in Bangkok, and violence has spread to the northern cities of Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai where Red Shirts retain strong support.

All IMB personnel serving in northern Thailand are accounted for, Chittum said.

In Chiang Mai, the U.S. Consulate reported that protestors burned tires and set off firecrackers in front of the governor’s residence two blocks from the night market, a popular tourist destination and three blocks from the consulate office.

Masked protestors also stormed and ransacked a police post, setting it on fire, according to C.S. Stanley*, an IMB photographer who captured scenes of the protests. A fire truck blocking the bridge also was set on fire.

“All in all there were probably 30 to 40 protestors who participated,” Stanley said. “The rest [of the crowd was] a mixture of local and foreign bystanders.”

The crowd dispersed when military personnel arrived two hours later.

In response, the Thai government extended an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for Bangkok to 18 provinces in northeast Thailand, including Chiang Mai.

“We are taking the matter seriously and carefully monitoring the situation,” Chittum said. “We are trying to keep [our personnel] informed as events unfold, and they are all doing well under the circumstances.”
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Southeast Asia.

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  • Tess Rivers