Thai army confronts Red Shirt protesters

At least 10 people were killed and 125 injured — including a Canadian journalist — during clashes between Thai security forces and anti-government protesters.

Canadian journalist wounded by gunfire

At least 10 people were killed and 125 injured — including a Canadian journalist — during clashes between Thai security forces and anti-government protesters.

Canadian Embassy closed

The Canadian Embassy in Bangkok has been temporarily closed to the public because of violence in the area, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says.

In case of emergency, Canadians needing assistance can call 001-800-220-0142 or 02-636-0540.

A state of emergency is in effect for Bangkok and the ministry is advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to the capital and other areas experiencing violence.

Canadians in Thailand are "strongly advised" to exercise a "high degree of caution" and avoid protest sites, military installations and prominent government buildings as violence could break out without warning, the ministry said.

Gunfire and explosions were heard Friday around the sprawling Red Shirt encampment in Bangkok, where thousands of protesters have been camped out for weeks.

The injured include a Thai photographer and Canadian journalist Nelson Rand, who was shot while reporting in Bangkok for a French television network.

Rand was shot in his leg, hand and abdomen while covering the clashes, France 24 said.

"The doctors do expect him to recover," said Derek Thomson, a senior producer for France 24. "He was operated on for four hours, lost a lot of blood, as I say, but the doctors do say he's now out of danger."

During the clashes, security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition, while protesters seized army equipment and set fire to a police vehicle during a riot Friday near the U.S. and Japanese embassies, which have been closed because of the fighting.

"Ambulances are coming out of the area every few minutes," Canadian journalist Michael McAuliffe said Friday afternoon from Bangkok.

Canadian journalist Nelson Rand was hit by three bullets while covering clashes in Bangkok, TV network France 24 says. ((France 24/Associated Press))

"What's difficult to ascertain is who is firing what in which direction," he said, noting that over the course of the day there had been reports of tear gas, fireworks, concussion grenades and Molotov cocktails.

Fighting has killed at least 37 people since the Red Shirts began camping in the capital in mid-March in a bid to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The demonstrators say Abhisit's government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, which in 2006 forced the populist leader favoured by the Red Shirts, Thaksin Shinawatra, from office.

It's estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 protesters, many of them rural poor, are still inside the heavily guarded protest camp, which covers three square kilometres in an upscale commercial district, McAuliffe said.

"We are being surrounded. We are being crushed. The soldiers are closing in on us. This is not a civil war yet, but it's very, very cruel," Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, told The Associated Press.

"Our policy is not to disperse the protesters," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said late Friday. He said their mission was to set up checkpoints and "tighten" the area around the protest, but "there have been attempts to agitate the officers."

In later speech on Thai television, Panitan said security forces hadn't entered the demonstration area but were attacked and forced to protect themselves.

He said security efforts would be stepped up in the coming days and "many areas would be under control soon."

Tensions rising

With security deteriorating and hopes of a peaceful resolution to the two-month standoff fading, unrest plunged Thailand deeper into political uncertainty.

A man reacts in front of a burning bus during clashes between Thai soldiers and anti-government protesters near Lumphini park in Bangkok on Friday. ((Damir Sagolj/Reuters))

Last week, Abhisit offered November elections, raising hopes that a compromise could be reached with the Red Shirts, who have been demanding immediate elections. Those hopes were dashed after Red Shirt leaders said government officials must be held accountable for last month's deadly clashes.

The situation escalated after renegade army Maj.-Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, also known as Sae Daeng, was shot in the head Thursday. He was talking to reporters just inside the perimeter of the protesters' encampment when the bullet hit him.

Red Shirt protesters claim the general was shot by a government sniper, but the army denies the claims. The general was taken to a Bangkok hospital, where he is in a coma, a doctor said Friday.

The protesters, who sealed off the entrances to their camp Thursday with tires and bamboo sticks, remain defiant.

"I'm not scared. We are here only to ask for democracy. Why are we facing violence?" Mukda Saelim, 39, a mushroom farmer from Chonburi province, said inside the encampment.

"I don't have anything to fight them, but I'm not afraid. You asked if this is safe? It's not."

The two-day clashes mark the worst continuous episode of violence since April 10, when 25 people were killed and more than 800 injured in clashes between Red Shirts and troops in Bangkok.

With files from The Associated Press