BANGKOK — Thai troops opened fire today into the fortified encampment of anti-government protesters in downtown Bangkok, ramming armored vehicles into its tire-and-bamboo barricade in what appears to be a final crackdown after a week of deadly clashes.
Associated Press reporters saw the troops firing automatic rifles from an overpass overlooking the encampment. Groups of soldiers also fired from crouching positions on the tracks of an elevated light rail system that runs over the encampment. There was no word on any casualties.
"This is D-Day," said one soldier when asked if this was the final push to clear the protest zone.
Thick black smoke from a mountain of burning tires darkened the skies today, billowing over the skyscrapers of this Asian metropolis of 10 million that has descended into chaos over the last week, with at least 39 killed.
The demonstrators marched into Bangkok in mid-March to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, dissolution of Parliament and immediate elections.
They created an encampment in Bangkok's posh downtown Rajprasong district in April, surrounding themselves with a barricade of tires and bamboo spears.
"This is the last push. Looks like the government really wants to end it this time," said Senator Lertrat Rattanawanit, who had tried to mediate between the two sides. "They have laid out the steps, giving out deadlines for people to move out and all that. It's a pity that using force is inevitable."
Asked if losses could be prevented, he said: "It's impossible."
At the protest zone's barricades, bamboo spears splintered as two armored personnel carrier rammed into the barrier, then backed up and tried again. They repeated the process several times and punched large holes, pushing the wall into a crumpled mass but not bringing it down entirely.
Soldiers tightened their blockades around the protest site at dawn today and used loudspeakers to tell all people to return to their homes.