BANGKOK — A Thai general who broke ranks to lead anti-government protests was shot in the head Thursday, an assault likely to inflame passions and undermine tenuous talks to end the demonstrators' two-month occupation of a prime Bangkok shopping area.
No one took immediate responsibility for the apparent sniper attack on Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who was injured and hospitalized.
The 59-year-old general, better known as "Seh Daeng," joined the Red Shirts protest movement in January, emerging as its tactical leader and often playing mediator between its factions.
Analysts speculated that the attack could have been carried out by government forces who resent his role in the movement or by a protester hoping to turn him into a martyr and strengthen the movement's resolve.
"It's too early to say who's responsible," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a research fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "But it will definitely make the Red Shirts more determined and could even draw in more of their supporters from northeast Thailand."
The protesters have called for the government to resign and for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to leave the country, while Abhisit has pledged to restore order.
Last week, the prime minister offered electoral reforms and early elections if the protesters evacuated their sprawling downtown encampment ringed with used tires and bamboo staves.
But any hope of a compromise was dashed when Red Shirts leaders subsequently pressed for criminal charges against the deputy premier, whom they accuse of masterminding a military clash with demonstrators on April 10 that left 25 dead. Negotiations then fell apart.
In recent days, the government has apparently shut off electricity to the area where protesters are camped out, even as the army set up choke points to prevent more from arriving.