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BANGKOK -- Downtown Bangkok became a raging battleground Wednesday as the army stormed a barricaded protest camp and toppled the Red Shirt leadership, enraging demonstrators who fired grenades and set fires that cloaked the skyline in a black haze.
At least two protesters and an Italian news photographer were killed. Two other foreign journalists and 15 Thais were wounded in the fighting. The Red Shirt protest leadership surrendered to authorities Wednesday afternoon and the army declared itself in full control, but violence raged on afterwards.
Surreal scenes of warfare erupted soon after dawn in one of the ritziest parts of the capital, a city of 10 million people, as troops armed with M-16s converged on the central business district. The chaotic end to the Red Shirt campaign is certain to deal a heavy blow to the economy and tourism industry of Thailand, a key U.S. ally and long considered one of the more stable economies of Southeast Asia. The Red Shirts are demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government, the dissolution of Parliament and new elections.
On Wednesday afternoon, seven top Red Shirt leaders turned themselves in, saying they cannot see their supporters being killed anymore.
"Brothers and sisters, I'm sorry I cannot see you off the way I welcomed you all when you arrived here. But please be assured that our hearts will always be with you," Nattawut Saikua, a key leader, said as he was being arrested.