Bullets fly in battlefield Bangkok

A dentist looks down from his 20th-floor apartment and sees a body on the pavement, blood streaming from the head.

A dentist looks down from his 20th-floor apartment and sees a body on the pavement, blood streaming from the head.

Bonfires burn in major streets that normally would be jammed with shoppers and tourists. Hotels are filled with soldiers and police, their boots and shields lining the hallways.

In the capital of a nation that proudly calls itself The Land of Smiles, urban warfare is raging outside luxury high-rises and crumbling shophouses. Residents - those who have not fled – lock themselves inside and hope the violence comes no closer.

“I don’t have the stomach to go near the window anymore,” said Teerawat Tussranapirom, the dentist who saw the body on the pavement. He photographed the gruesome scene and posted the image on his Facebook page.

“I haven’t left the building,” he said by telephone. “I’ve stockpiled food and water for two days. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it runs out.”

Going outside is out of the question these days in parts of central Bangkok, most of which has become a battlefield, punctuated by thundering explosions and the constant clack-clack-clack of gunfire.

Soldiers have killed 30 people and wounded more than 220 since a crackdown on anti-government protesters began on Thursday.

There was no immediate end in sight after the government ominously said over the weekend that the only way to restore peace was to persist with its crackdown on the Red Shirt protesters, who have been camped since April 3 in an upmarket shopping district.

In a city known for its gentleness and easy smiles, nobody imagined Thailand’s political problems, as bad as they have been, would come to this.

Many of Bangkok’s biggest boulevards are empty as far as the eye can see. On pavements, military snipers are crouched behind sandbags and protesters lob explosives at them, torch tyres and police vehicles. Bloody bodies are being dragged down the pavement to waiting ambulances.

Mr Teerawat lives in the Ratchaprarop area, a commercial district north of the main protest site that has been the scene of fierce fighting. Troops have declared it a “Live Fire Zone”.

“How am I supposed to feel when I wake up and there are corpses of Thai people lying in front of my building,” he said on his Facebook page.

The affected area of clashes and road closures now spans about eight square miles, including the city’s central business district.

Almost everything in the area is closed: restaurants, supermarkets, the ubiquitous massage parlours and even the go-go bars in Patpong Road, one of the city’s most famous sex-bar strips, which is now lined with water cannon trucks and military vehicles.

“It’s like a cemetery here. It’s dead,” said Thanin Somboonsiri, sitting outside a bar called Super Girls.

Soldiers and police are everywhere, camped at budget hotels and sleeping at outdoor swimming pools of strategically-located apartment buildings.

Reporters covering the violence wear flak jackets and ballistic helmets. Four journalists have been injured by gunfire.

Some residents have fled for safety. The government has declared today and tomorrow public holidays so nobody has to cross the danger zone to go to work.

But outside the city centre, life goes on somewhat normally. People are buying groceries, taking their morning jogs and sipping lattes at outdoor cafes.

But there are inconveniences – the elevated Skytrain will remain closed today for the third day and all schools in Bangkok were ordered to close for at least a week from today.

There is also tension and fear the violence will spread and everyone wonders how many lives will be lost before it stops.

Even from relative safety, there are new rules to live by. Notably, stay away from the centre of Bangkok.

Indian expat Anna Khendry, 47, has forbidden her two teenage boys from going out at night even though they live far from the conflict.

“Everything is on hold because that’s a war zone,” she said. “When my kids want to go out at night, I restrict them. You could get a random bullet.”

For that reason, many have evacuated to temporary housing.

“We’re safe now. Thank God we got out just in time,” said another Indian expat, Manisha Trivedi, a nursery school teacher whose gated apartment building on posh Langsuan Road was next to the protest zone and is now hemmed in by the fighting.

Toddlers at her international school rehearsed safety drills last week.

“We told them if you hear three bells we take the class upstairs and we sit in the hall and basically we wait and we stay safe,” Ms Trivedi said. “You just think, what sort of place are we living in.”

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