UPDATE: 19:55 YouTube video of Central World on fire.

UPDATE: 19:13: Charnvit Kasetsiri, a prominent political historian who specialises in modern political movement, described the latest phenomenon to Reuters as “the most widespread and most uncontrollable” political violence Thailand has ever seen.

UPDATE: 18:50: From Reuters live blog:

Latest death toll: 43 dead (6 died during today’s clashes) and 365 injured (Source: Erawan Emergency Medical Center)

UPDATE: 18:21 Now, we just have patriotic songs on all free-to-air channels and the local equivalent of CNN. BBC and CNN still broadcasting normally: BBC backgrounder:

Whatever version of the recent past is chosen, neither violence nor a death-defying commitment to democracy is unusual in Thai politics.

UPDATE: 18:15: Photo of one of Thailand’s largest shopping centres, Central World which is right at the protest site, on fire and well there is no saving it.

BP: Photo is from BBC’s correspondent in BBC Alistair Leithead.

UPDATE: 18:00: Simon Roughneen has a piece in The Irrawaddy on what he saw during the crackdown and in the aftermath:

The Thai army today launched a final crackdown on the main redshirt protest area today, leading to the surrender of the main protest leaders. Redshirt leaders told protesters at the group’s rally site in Bangkok of their intention to surrender to police, and asked the protesters to evacuate the site and return home. This provoked anger among a hardcore group of armed militants. These have fought on, burning the shopping malls under which the reds have sheltered at their main protest site since earlier today.

BP: Some photos too.

UPDATE: 17:00: CRES, the entity set up to adminster the state of emergency, have just had an announcement. Panitan, acting government spokesman, was speaking in Thai and have summarized what he said. He asked people to stay at home between 8pm-6am for the curfew. He said the curfew would enable the authorities to handle the situation more efficiently. He said all TV will be broadcasting special programs simoultaneously under the authority of the government. The red leaders have surrendered, it is time to stop all activities and enter the road map reconcilitation process.

Then speaking in English, there are a “few pockets of trouble”. Govt has declared curfew from 8pm-6am

Panitan: For those who need to travel tonight, please bring with you your passport & tickets, we will assist u in returning home safely

UPDATE: 16:35: The Bangkok Post front page from May 19, 1992 (exactly 18 years ago today) was “Chamlong arrested”, “Dead bodies pile up”, “Buildings set on fire” and the main headline “Bloody battles rage in city”.

BP: Sounds eerie familiar…

UPDATE: 16:25: From FCCT:

There are numerous reports that foreign and Thai journalists are being targetted by some elements in the red shirts.

UPDATE: 16:05: CRES officially announces a curfew for Bangkok for tonight only from 8 p.m.-6 a.m. Curfew means stay indoors. This regulation is issued pursuant to the SOE so there are criminal penalties for those who do not comply.

UPDATE: 15:55: Reuters:

BOONYAKIAT KARAVEKPHAN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAMKHAMHAENG UNIVERSITY

“The government may be able to retrieve the Rachaprasong intersection by using troops, but it will face a tougher task in winning the hearts and minds of the rural people whose relatives were attending a relatively peaceful rally and have been killed or wounded in the crackdown.

“A window of opportunity was opened for the government yesterday to return to the negotiating table, which could have yielded a sustainable solution, but the government chose to use the troops to crack down on the protesters.”

BP: As of now, the situation is very quickly getting out of control. Protesters are at different locations throughout Bangkok and in at least one provinicial hall building upcountry (ThaiPBS reports fire set to provincial building in Khon Kaen)

UPDATE: 15:35 NYT:

One leader, Jatuporn Prompan, declared the protest over.

“We cannot resist against these savages anymore,” Mr. Jatuporn said on a stage inside the protest zone. He was booed.

“Please listen to me, please listen to me!” he pleaded to the angry crowd. “Brothers and sisters, I will use the word “beg.” I beg you. We have to end this for now.”

But Mr. Jatuporn’s words did nothing to calm the chaos. Protesters began smashing the surrounding buildings, a large shopping mall called Central World was on fire, and as many as 20 loud explosions were head.

BP: Some protesters have surrendered, others are not. There is no control over what the rest will do.

UPDATE: 15:27: AFP reports:

A curfew is to be imposed across Bangkok on Wednesday night, defence minister General Prawit Wongsuwon said after a military offensive against anti-government protesters in the capital.

UPDATE: 14:18: AP reports:

Five leaders of Thailand’s Red Shirt protesters have surrendered to authorities after a deadly army assault on their fortified encampment.

They have been led away by police in central Bangkok. An army spokesman has described them as “terrorist leaders.

UPDATE 14:10: AP:

Thai soldiers with armored vehicles stormed into a fortified encampment occupied by anti-government protesters Wednesday, breaking through bamboo-and-tire barricades in a major military offensive in the heart of Bangkok.

At least two protesters were killed and one foreign journalist appeared dead after getting shot in the chest. Two other foreign journalists were wounded by bullets.

Surreal scenes of warfare erupted in one of the ritziest parts of the capital, as troops armed with M-16s marched through the central business district past upscale apartment buildings to retake the area around manicured Lumpini Park, which has been under the control of protesters camped there for weeks.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn declared the first stage of the army operation to secure the area around Lumpini Park successful and said that some protest leaders had fled. He asked the public to inform police if any of the leaders were spotted.

However, two of the three key leaders remained in the protest zone giving defiant speeches and singing on a stage, as troops drew closer.

An Associated Press reporter who followed the troops into the protest camp saw the bodies of two men sprawled on the ground, one with a head wound and other apparently shot in the upper body. They were the first known casualties in the assault that began before dawn Wednesday on a 1-square kilometer (3-square kilometer) stretch of downtown Bangkok that protesters have occupied.

Troops fired M-16 rifles at fleeing protesters and shouted, “Come out and surrender or we’ll kill you.”

An AP photographer saw three foreign journalists shot. One was an Italian photographer shot in the chest. His eyes were rolled back and he showed no signs of life. A Dutch journalist walked into the hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The third journalist was a 53-year-old American documentary filmmaker who was treated for a shot in the leg.

The photographer also saw at least seven Thais brought to a hospital. It was unknown if they were dead or unconscious.

As troops entered the fringes of the protest area, they passed smoldering fires and hastily abandoned campsites where clothes were still hanging on laundry lines. Shoes were scattered, chairs were overturned and a huge pile of rice was covered with flies.

Panitan went on national television four hours after the crackdown began to announce it was under way, speaking first in Thai and then in English.

“The operations will continue throughout the day,” Panitan said. “We would like to reassure the citizens of Bangkok that the operations are designed to make sure we stabilize the area.”

BP: So what now?

UPDATE: 14:00: Ok, back now. The red leaders and many protesters have surrendered. Will provide more details at they come to hand.

UPDATE: 8:50: From Reuters live blog:

More news on the two people who were shot. Reuters witness said one was shot in the chest while trying to help a fellow protester. The demonstrators responded by firing at soldiers.

UPDATE: 8:30: From Reuters live blog:

Protesters at the main encampment remain defiant. “I have no plan to flee. I am here to fight for better Thailand. I don’t mind dying for my country,” said a 54-year-old protester Saman Niyakul from Ubon Ratchathani province as he prepared a homemade rocket to fire at troops. “There are too many double-standards and that’s what I cannot stand. We have to fight that.”

UPDATE: 8:07: From Reuters live blog:

The deputy director of the Chulalongkorn Hospital on Channel 9 saying there are no patients on the outer buildings where the thick smoke is reaching

UPDATE: 8:05: ThaiPBS reporter on live cross at Sala Daeng. You can hear gunfire/firing of something in the background

UPDATE: 7:59: A message from a well-respected Thai journalist:

I’ve talked with Naruemon Tabchumphon, behind-the-scene mediator from Chulalongkorn University, she asked me to convey an open-urgent message to the red-shirt leaders at Rajprasong to turn themselves to the authority in order to save lives as the dispersal has begun. “Their status will then change to like protagonists like Gandhi,” she said at 7.40am, May 19.

BP: Not sure that posting this will help get the message to some red shirts, but well not much one can do.

UPDATE: 7:48: From Alistair Leithead of BBC who is on the ground within the protest zone tweets:

At least one injured protester here just taken off in makeshift ambulance behind barricades up from Silom. Troops moving in Lumpini.

UPDATE: 7:45: AP:

Thai troops have opened fire at a fortified encampment of anti-government protesters in central Bangkok.

Associated Press reporters saw the troops positioned on an overpass overlooking the encampment firing automatic rifles sporadically at the encampment Wednesday. There was no sustained shooting.

Some troops were also seen crouching on the elevated tracks of a light rail system that runs over the encampment.

The firing came after a large number of troops and armored carriers gathered at the edges of the encampment at daybreak amid reports of a final assault on the camp the protesters have occupied for weeks.

“This is D-Day,” said one soldier when asked if this was the final push

BP:

UPDATE: 7:30: Seh U/Gen Lertlad, Appointed Senator & was acting as mediator last night, is interviewed on Ch 3. He estimates 100 dead; 1000+ injuries if military goes in with brute force. He says he is also worried of what will happen upcountry if brute force is used and is of the view that things could get out of control very quickly. He said he has been getting phonecalls all morning from friends in the military who want him to try to stop the crackdown.

UDPATE: 7:13: From Reuters live blog:

Thai troops fear tear gas at entrance to protest encampment near Bangkok’s business district, according to Reuters witnesses

UPDATE: 7:05: ThaiPBS channel is showing smoke throughout Bangkok from burning tires

UPDATE: 6:55: Reuters have a live blog and it is being regularly updated. The military have yet to go in.

UPDATE: 6:35: AFP telephone Col. Sansern to ask what is happening. The answer “I will not answer any questions,”

UPDATE: 6:20: ThaiPBS reporter states at Sala Daeng hearing a military loud speaker as giving reds 15 minutes to leave…

UPDATE: 5:25: Matichon reports that Chami S, a list Democrat MP and head of the Democrats War Room, as stating that the 35 deaths so far is quite low and is viewed that the government has the advantage because it is just soliders entering the fringe of the protest area where the protesters hae weapons and are firing on soldiers (นายชำนิ ศักดิเศรษฐ์ ส.ส.สัดส่วน ปชป.เป็นประธานประชุมคณะทำงานติดตามเพื่อประเมินสถานการณ์ทางการเมือง หรือวอร์รูป ปชป. เมื่อวันที่ 17 พฤษภาคม โดยที่ประชุมประเมินว่า สถานการณ์ขณะนี้ถือว่าอยู่ในภาวะสงคราม จึงจำเป็นต้องประเมินแบบวันต่อวัน แม้ปฏิบัติการของทหารจะทำให้มีผู้เสียชีวิตอย่างน้อย 35 คน แต่ยังไม่ถือว่า รัฐบาลเสียเปรียบ เพราะเพียงแค่ทหารเข้าไปบริเวณตะเข็บที่ชุมนุมก็มีกองกำลังติดอาวุธยิงใส่ทหาร) and this means the government still has an opportunity to change the game by proving that the deaths came from the protesters and was not the work of soldiers (ทำให้รัฐบาลยังมีพอโอกาสพลิกเกมได้ โดยการพิสูจน์ว่า ผู้เสียชีวิตเกิดจากฝีมือกองกำลังติดอาวุธ ไม่ใช่ฝีมือทหาร).

“Chami has told the Democrat spokesman to give daily press conferences to counter the Puea Thai news and that each time they need to state that all the problems today arise from Thaksin and if Thaksin orders the situation to stop then the situation will be over” a source states:

A source within the Democrat War Room states that that the protests will likely last another week and the 35 deaths is acceptable because we have estimated 200-500 deaths (ข่าวแจ้งอีกว่า วอร์รูม ปชป.ยังประเมินว่า สถานการณ์ชุมนุมน่าจะยืดเยื้อต่อไปอีกไม่น้อยกว่า 1 สัปดาห์ โดยจำนวนผู้เสียชีวิตที่ 35 คนถือว่ายังยอมรับได้ เพราะเดิมคาดว่าจะเสียชีวิต 200-500 คน). In regards to the coalition partners abandoning the government, this is unlikely as Bhum Jai Thai still supports the government.

A senior Democrat source states that many Democrat MPs accept that there is a possibility that at the end of this all, Abhisit will have to resign in order to accept responsibility so that people will still support the Democrats and so that the Democrats can still be in government or if not then after the election (แหล่งข่าวระดับแกนนำ ปชป. แจ้งว่า ส.ส.ปชป.หลายคนยอมรับว่า มีโอกาสเป็นไปได้ว่า ภายหลังภารกิจยุติความวุ่นวายครั้งนี้ นายอภิสิทธิ์ อาจจะต้องลงจากตำแหน่ง เพื่อแสดงความรับผิดชอบ และให้ประชาชนเป็นตัดสินว่า ยังสนับสนุน ปชป.ให้เป็นรัฐบาลต่อไปหรือไม่ในการเลือกตั้งครั้งต่อไป )

BP: Make of that what you want too…

UPDATE 5:15: Thai Rath reports that at 1:30 a.m. a M79 grenade was fired into a red shirt satelite protest held at Soi Ngahm Duplee injuring 4 protesters. From investigations, at the time the protesters were throwing pring-pong bombs at the soldiers. Nattawut announced at 4 a.m. that the military would crackdown at 6 a.m and disperse the protesters. On the stage, they asked that children be moved to the adjacent temple.

There is video of Thai TV (TNN only – Channel 5 are replaying the Pongpat speech) of Armoured Personnel Carriers and buses of troops, vehicles to detain protesters moving closer to the protest site.

From Reuters “Thai protest leader expects battle as army troops gather near protest site”.

BP: Rumours were spreading that the military would crackdown at 5 a.m. and disperse the protesters. Is this just a show of force? Or the beginning of a real crackdown and dispersal?