Autopsies carried out on the bodies of nine protesters killed in clashes with Thai security forces in Bangkok at the weekend have revealed they were struck by live rounds.
The Thai army has said it used only rubber bullets during the clashes with so-called red shirt protesters, but from the limited information released from the autopsies it remains unclear who fired the fatal bullets.
Saturday’s clashes left 21 people dead, including four police and a Reuters TV cameraman, and more than 800 injured.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, reporting from a red shirt protest camp in central Bangkok, said the coroner’s announcement on Monday left many questions unanswered, including the caliber and specifications of the ammunition involved which would give clues as to its origin.
The announcement, he said, had only added to a tense atmosphere of conjecture and suspicion in Bangkok in the wake of the weekend’s violence.
The news came as Thailand’s prime minister, speaking in a nationally televised address, said that “terrorists” were behind Saturday’s unrest.
“From the overall picture we clearly found that terrorists used pro-democracy protesters to incite the unrest, hoping for total change in our country,” Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
He added that a committee would investigate the clashes and that peaceful demands for democracy should be addressed through the political process.
“We have to differentiate innocent people from terrorists and then we can map out further measures,” Abhisit said.
Earlier leaders of the so-called red shirt anti-government protester movement vowed there would be no negotiations with the government, saying they would continue with protests until Abhisit stood down and called fresh elections.
|Red shirts held funeral marches to mourn the dead protesters [EPA]|
On Monday hundreds of red shirt protesters joined what they said were funeral processions, carrying coffins through the streets of Bangkok mourning the protesters killed in Saturday’s clashes.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said the protesters viewed the march through the Thai capital as a way to “show the residents of this city, the Thai people, what the government did to them”.
He said they were also expected to try to take the coffins to the home of the Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva – the man whose resignation they are demanding.
Abhisit has based himself at a top security army barracks during the escalating crisis and is not expected to be at his home.
|“Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country”
Speaking to protesters from a makeshift stage late on Sunday, Jatuporn Prompan, a red shirt leader, said Abhisit’s hands had been “bloodied”, and declared that the red shirts would “never negotiate with murderers”.
“Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country,” he said.
Saturday’s clashes was the worst political violence seen in the Thai capital in almost two decades.
The violence has prompted dozens of countries to issue travel warnings advising their citizens to avoid Thailand, prompting fears of major losses for Thailand’s tourist-dependent economy.
At Monday’s opening, Thailand’s benchmark share index was down 3.88 per cent, although it began to recover slightly as trading picked up during the day.
Saturday’s clashes broke out as security forces tried to clear protesters from an area of central Bangkok they have occupied for more than a month.
|Protesters captured several army vehicles during Saturday’s clashes [AFP]|
Security forces and protesters later pulled back, leaving a trail of bullet casings, pools of blood and shattered army vehicles in what is normally one of Bangkok’s main tourist areas.
Some of the heaviest fighting occurred near the Khao San road, an area popular with foreign backpackers.
Among the 21 killed was Hiro Muramoto, a Japanese cameraman working for the Reuters news agency.
Reuters has said the circumstances of his death were under review, while the Thai government has said it will also launch an investigation into his death.
The red shirts, many of them supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup, have been staging non-stop protests for more than a month seeking to force Abhisit to resign and call fresh elections.
They say the prime minister, who came to power following a parliamentary vote in late 2008, is illegitimate.
The red shirts see Abhisit as a symbol of the ruling elite they say was behind the 2006 coup that removed Thaksin from power.
Red shirt leaders have said they will not negotiate on their key demands, while Abhisit and his ministers have remained tight-lipped about their plans.
In one possible sign of movement, however, the Bangkok Post on Monday reported that the government may be willing to consider an offer to dissolve parliament in six months – three months earlier than Abhisit’s most recent proposal – to pave the way for new national elections.
The plan is being seen by some in the government as a possible route towards defusing the crisis, the Post reported.
“They believe an announcement by the prime minister on a timeline for him to dissolve parliament – regardless of how the [red shirts react] – might be the best way for him to hang on to his job,” the report said.
On Sunday a Thai government spokesman told reporters that a line of communication with the red shirts was open, but conditions were not right for formal talks.
The government announced a state of emergency on April 7 forbidding public gatherings of more than five people.
“As long as they are still breaking the law, that makes it difficult,” spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
spotted by RS