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Eyewitness accounts: Journalists in Bangkok under fire

Protesters help Nelson Rand after the France 24 journalist was shot during unrest in Bangkok. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

Firsthand accounts from journalists covering street protests in Bangkok illustrate the severity of the crisis and the danger to the front-line press. At least eight journalists have been shot, two of them fatally, while covering the unrest in the Thai capital, CPJ research shows. On Wednesday, police entered the Buddhist temple Wat Patum, where antigovernment protesters had gathered. The troops opened fire with live ammunition, according to local and foreign media reports. Andrew Buncombe in London-based The Independent picks it up from there:

“That's when I—one of just a handful of journalists still present at the temple—was hit in the outer thigh by what appeared to be several pieces of shrapnel. They later transpired to be large pellets from a shotgun.” Buncombe writes. “Where had this shooting come from? Were soldiers now deliberately firing at journalists or did they simply not care?”

These are questions that CPJ and others will be asking in the aftermath of the violence. Eyewitness accounts now rolling in from journalists on the ground are filling in some of the gaps already. Buncombe’s own Twitter feed included this update Wednesday night:

Pleasant gvt official visited me in hosp Asked how I felt. I told him I was pretty pissed off to be shot in a temple full of civilians. 

Mark MacKinnon with The Globe and Mail of Toronto was in the same Buddhist temple, Wat Patum, where hundreds of civilian “Red Shirt” protesters had taken shelter after troops routed their makeshift encampment early Wednesday. He posted developments live:

Somehow we're the only corros left in temple. People around us terrified. Red Cross can't get ambulance in to injured because of gunfire.

A transcript of his Twitter feed, including photos, is available on the Mail’s Web site.

The Associated Press said Channel 3 news anchor Patcharasri Benjamasa tweeted an appeal on her Thai-language account while her offices were under attack from protesters. “News cars were smashed and they are about to invade the building.”

Canadian CBC News producer Cedric Monteiro also describes getting caught up in the fighting:

The bam, bam, bam of rifle fire sends the Thai army and dozens of journalists ducking for cover. The shots being fired are from the so-called Black Shirts, an armed and militant subgroup within the Red Shirt protesters.

Monteiro later describes seeing Canadian freelancer Chandler Vandergrift taken from the streets on a stretcher. He remains in intensive care today, according to news reports. Monteiro had recently met Vandergrift, coincidentally, at the hospital bedside of yet another wounded colleague Nelson Rand, who was shot on May 14. Rand has also described what it was like to get shot. “I think I was trying to cross the line from the army to the protesters, and then it hit me in the hand,” he told The Vancouver Sun.

These accounts and others create a compelling if complex picture of the chaos in Bangkok. It is now up to the Thai government to launch a full inquiry into the exact circumstances of the deaths and injuries of so many foreign correspondents and local journalists.  

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