Thai Cop Shot in Head During Search Op Amid Anti-Govt Protests

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-10-07
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Thai Cop Shot in Head During Search Op Amid Anti-Govt Protests Police prepare to go into apartment buildings in Bangkok’s Din Daeng area, Oct. 6, 2021.
[Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

A Thai policeman was in intensive care after unknown persons shot him in the head while police officers searched an apartment complex in Bangkok for people suspected of violent acts during recent pro-democracy protests, officials said Thursday.

The policeman was the second member of the security forces to be seriously injured in separate incidents since September, amid a violent turn in anti-government protests here.

In the latest incident, the policeman was hit by a copper bullet that penetrated his helmet and lodged in his temple during a late-night search on Wednesday at the complex in Din Daeng, a district in the Thai capital, a police spokesman said. 

“Lance Corporal Detwit Ledtenson was shot in his left temple, the bullet fragments were removed from his head during an operation,” said Maj. Gen. Jirasant Kaewsang-ek, spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Bureau.  

From the fragments recovered during surgery, police determined that the bullet was a copper-jacketed one, Jirasant said. Forensic experts are now analyzing the fragments to identity the type of gun from which the bullet was fired.

Detwit was part of a posse of security officers looking for allegedly disruptive protesters who had been demonstrating Din Daeng. Since late July, anti-government protests in that neighborhood have become more violent, according to analysts.

The target of the officers’ search was a housing complex called the Din Daeng Flats, where many protestors were said to run to and hide in to avoid being detained by the police.

A 21-second long video clip, filmed a little before midnight and posted on the Police Thailand News’ Facebook page, shows a group of well-equipped riot police – which included Detwit, police said – searching the ground floor of one of the buildings.

Suddenly, three loud bangs can be heard, and policemen are seen running towards the sound. The video then shows only a part of a body lying on the floor, which police said was Detwit.

‘1,161 protesters arrested’

Analysts say the reason protests have turned more violent – they had been peaceful since July 2020 – is widespread anger at the government’s perceived botched handling of the pandemic and its slow vaccine rollout.

In the last few months, activists have added the alleged mismanagement of the pandemic to their raft of grievances. They are still demanding that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha step down, the constitution be rewritten, and the monarchy to be reformed.

The police are now cracking down harder on protesters’ alleged arson, the bursting of giant firecrackers, and the firing of slingshots, during their demonstrations.

Both these sides, as well as civilians, have borne the brunt of this escalation of violence.

In mid-August, a 15-year-old boy was shot and injured in the neck and “will be paralyzed for life,” a protesters group called Thalu Gaz said on its Facebook page. The boy is still in a coma, reports say.

Meanwhile, police said one of their men, 28-year-old Thanawut Jirakachen, was seriously injured when a firecracker thrown by a protester hit his face on Sept. 11. The police say he is now disabled, having suffered bleeding in his brain and a crack on the bone around his eye-socket.

Since the pro-democracy demonstrations began in July 2020 and until September this year, there have been more than 1,900 consecutive protests with 1,161 protesters arrested, Amnesty International said.

Of those arrested, 210 were under 18 years old, the rights group said.

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An anti-government protester uses a slingshot during a demonstration in Bangkok, Sept. 27, 2021. [AFP]

‘Last step before full-fledged violence’

According to one protester, the violence may see a further escalation if Prayuth does not resign.

On Wednesday – before the policeman was shot – Thanayuth Na Ayutthaya told a forum at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) of Thailand that activists were resorting to violence because they wanted the attention of a government ignoring their grievances.

“We [burn] the government’s properties paid out of the [peoples’] taxes in order to tell the government we want it listen to our voices,” Thanayuth, who is also a member of a rap group Eleven Fingers, told the forum.

“This [level of] escalated violence is still peaceful, but it is the last step of peaceful means. This is the last step before full-fledged violence.”

A protester from another group, nicknamed To, said police action against them has been disproportionate. He said the police intimidate demonstrators by threatening them with criminal charges and by conducting blanket searches in the Din Daeng area.

“With regard to the Din Daeng Flats, the police conducted searches for the kids who were hiding from these actions … why such intimidation?” To said at the FCC forum.

Meanwhile, Sombat Boonngamanong, an “old school” protestor, feared that the increasing violence would undermine the legitimacy of young people’s protests. He named two newer groups, Thalu Gaz and Yaowaroon Thalu Gaz.

“I think what the Thalu Gaz groups ignore are public image building and the building of legitimacy,” Sombat told the FCC forum.

“Such ignorance could lead to them being isolated from public sympathy and then the government will fully crack down on them.”

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