Fabio Polenghi Inquest Begins

The AP reported yesterday:

An inquest began Monday into the death of an Italian photographer killed two years ago as troops quashed a protest by anti-government “Red Shirts” who had occupied a central Bangkok intersection for several weeks.

The sister of slain photojournalist Fabio Polenghi was one of two witnesses to testify in the effort to see who was responsible for the killing on May 19, 2010. Elisabetta Polenghi has visited Thailand several times since her brother’s death to try to secure justice.

Polenghi was shot as he tried to take pictures of the army’s assault on the encampment of Red Shirts, who wanted then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down. At least 91 people were killed during two months of political violence that swept through the Thai capital. They included two journalists, Polenghi and Reuters cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto.

And:

Several investigations, including some by police, determined that many victims were probably killed by soldiers, but no definitive legal findings have been made. Separate public and private investigations into the deaths of the journalists found that evidence suggested they were killed by government forces, but they were not conclusive.

Meanwhile, AFP has a story saying a police official told the inquest he thinks Polenghi was hit by gunfire from the army:

Government troops are believed to have shot an Italian photographer who was killed during mass opposition street protests in 2010 in Bangkok, police told an official inquest in Thailand on Monday.

Police Colonel Suebsak Pansura, who is heading a team investigating the case, said they had questioned 47 witnesses and experts over the death of Fabio Polenghi and gathered evidence to submit to prosecutors.

“The conclusion found that the cause of his death was believed to have been a gunshot from the authorities on duty,” he told Bangkok’s Criminal Court on the opening day of the inquest.

Bangkok: the events of May 19

Yesterday, May 19, army troops stormed the red shirt camp, breaking up anti-government demonstrations that had lasted for more than two months here in Bangkok.

Soldiers first destroyed the red shirt barricades in Silom ((See this post for images of the aftermath of earlier violence in Silom.)) with armored personnel carriers. Then the troops pressed north on Rajadamri toward the Rajaprasong camp ((See this post for images of the Rajaprasong red shirt camp in previous weeks.)), securing Lumphini Park and coming under fire from armed men clad in black.

Red shirt leaders soon surrendered to police, and the army eventually secured the entire protest site. Later, red shirt protesters would set scores of buildings on fire: the Stock Exchange of Thailand, CentralWorld shopping mall, two banks, a TV station, and more.

Some protesters who took refuge from the army crackdown sheltered in a nearby temple. Here’s a Globe and Mail story about people there — including the journalist who penned the piece — coming under fire throughout the night.

The day began with speculation that an army operation was imminent. The day ended with a deserted Rajaprasong protest site and plumes of smoke on the horizon.

At least 12 people were killed. Unrest also spread to the country’s northeast, but things now seem relatively calm here in Bangkok.

For a recap of the day’s events, here’s a good NYT story and blog post with video from the northeast.

Also, here’s a BBC story called “What Next for Thailand?” And for some moving — and very graphic — images, see this post at Boston.com’s The Big Picture.

My day started at 5 a.m., when I learned that army troops had taken up positions around the red shirt camp in the pre-dawn hours. So I quickly headed in that direction. I stopped at Phloenchit Rd., where I noticed a gathering of soldiers. (Note: please excuse the low-quality mobile phone images.)

Troops on Phloenchit

Dozens of camouflage clad troops armed with rifles had established a checkpoint here. They had set up sandbags and took up positions in the Phloenchit BTS station.

Troops on Phloenchit

Phloenchit BTS station

Most of the troops were focused on an area further down the road, where the easternmost red shirt barricade was located. But at one point I ducked around the side of a gas station and was surprised to see to soldiers staring up into surrounding buildings with binoculars.

It became clear to me that the fighting was happening on the southern end of the protest site, near the red shirt barricade near Silom and Lumphini Park, and that these troops were merely holding their position, not planning to enter Rajaprasong.

Troops on Phloenchit

So I walked along Phloenchit to the Rajaprasong main stage area. Along the way, I talked to a few red shirt “guards” manning the barricades. They said they were aware that the army was surrounding the protest zone, but they didn’t seem overly concerned. They told me that they believed that there were snipers in the high rise buildings near the Wireless Rd. and Langsuan Rd. intersections.

Here’s what the barricade looked like:

Red shirt barricade

At the main protest site, several hundred meters further along the road, demonstrators gathered and listened to speeches. But there were fewer protesters than in days past. Still, men and women — a few of them with children — milled about as if it were any other day at the demonstration site.

Red shirt main stage, pre-crackdown

Some red shirt supporters watched Thai TV coverage of the army buildup at the southern end of the protest site.

Red shirts watching TV coverage of army buildup

After hearing reports that the army was advancing up Rajadamri Rd., I made my way away from the stage, heading back to the east along Phloenchit. Red shirt supporters were still congregating in an area behind the barricades.

Behind a red shirt barricade

A tire was smoldering from an earlier fire.

Red shirt barricade

Motorcycle taxi drivers — either red shirt supporters, opportunistic entrepreneurs, or both — were hanging out here, ferrying people around.

Red shirt barricade

I traveled further east and soon noticed smoke rising from the Asoke junction, one of Bangkok’s busiest intersections. Reports suggested that a bus or a pile of tires — or both — had been lit on fire here.

Smoke from Asoke intersection

There was also a thick plume of smoke coming from the Rama IV area, to the south. I would later learn that arsonists had torched the Channel 3 building. The fire raged for hours.

Channel 3 building on fire

And later I saw smoke coming from the west. This was likely from the CentralWorld fire.

Smoke from CentralWorld

The government then announced a curfew from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.

I was out along Sukhumvit Rd. briefly during this time and it was a very strange scene: virtually no traffic on what is typically one of the Thai capital’s most congested avenues. There were just a handful of pedestrians; there were long stretches of darkness; and there was very little noise.

Here’s the full Flickr photoset of my images.

For ongoing information, you can consult my lists of Thailand Twitterers and Bangkok journalists. And, of course, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Obviously, many questions remain. What will happen to the red shirt leaders — and the red shirt movement? Will there be more fires? Or shootings? What does the military operation mean for the future of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government?

Stay tuned.