- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 19 May 2010 13.08 BST
Rioting and fires swept through Bangkok today after Thai troops stormed the fortified encampment of anti-government protesters, unleashing a wave of violence across the capital and other parts of the country.
At least three demonstrators and an Italian journalist were killed in the military operation, which provoked fierce resistance from the redshirts. Protesters set fire to buildings including the stock exchange and south-east Asia's second-biggest department store complex, and attacked newspaper offices and a television station.
Power was lost in the bustling Sukhumvit Road district, an area packed with tourists and high-end residential complexes, hours after the army said the situation was under control. The prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, imposed a curfew in Bangkok from 8pm to 6am tomorrow, saying the order was needed to allow the security forces to do their duty.
The chaos erupted as soldiers advanced on the demonstrators who had occupied the protest site in the centre of Bangkok for more than six weeks. Amid heavy fire from the troops, armoured personnel carriers pushed through barricades of bamboo and tyres that the protesters had set on fire. Soldiers fired at fleeing protesters and shouted: "Come out and surrender or we'll kill you."
Protesters armed with assault rifles fired back at troops making their way north up Ratchadamri Road. Outnumbered and lacking firepower, the redshirts suffered serious casualties.
Protest leaders offered to surrender as the soldiers surrounded them, but their supporters urged them to fight on, many screaming and crying as gunfire rang out nearby. Moments later, live television showed four redshirt protest leaders in police custody. An army spokesman said the protest site was under army control and the military had halted operations.
Three grenades exploded outside the main protest site, badly wounding two soldiers and a foreign journalist, a Reuters witness said. Several media organisations including the Bangkok Post and the Nation newspapers evacuated their offices after a threat from protesters accusing them of biased reporting. 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.
The violence spread to north-east Thailand – a redshirt stronghold – where protesters stormed a town hall complex in the city of Udon Thani, setting a building ablaze, and torched a second town hall in Khon Kaen. Unrest was reported in three other provinces.
An AP photographer saw three foreign journalists shot in Bangkok. One, an Italian photographer, died after being hit in the chest. Italian media have named the man as Fabio Polenghi, a 48-year-old Milan-based photojournalist who was on assignment in Thailand for several magazines. He was identified by a friend from television images, the Ansa news agency reported.
A Dutch journalist walked into hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder. A third journalist, a 53-year-old American documentary filmmaker, was treated for a gunshot in the leg.
Two bodies were found on Ratchadamri Road, according to a Reuters witness. They appeared to have been shot.
The former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is backed by the redshirts, warned that the country could slide further into civil unrest. "There is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas," said Thaskin, who has been living in self-impose exile since being ousted in a coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption.
He denied an accusation by a top aide of Abhisit that he was the stumbling block for failed talks between the government and the redshirt leaders.
About 3,000 protesters were estimated to be within the redshirt zone. For six days Thai army troops fought pitched battles across the city against protesters trying to defend their camp from incursion. Thirty-nine people have been killed in the fighting, and nearly 300 injured.
Thailand's government rejected the protesters' latest offer to negotiate yesterday and insisted there would be no talks until the dwindling anti-government movement abandoned the areas of central Bangkok it had taken over.
The redshirts had demanded that Abhisit dissolve parliament and call early elections. They say the current administration came to power through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military.
The standoff deteriorated into street clashes last Thursday after a military adviser to the redshirts was shot by an apparent sniper, just after the army surrounded the protest zone.