Thai 'popcorn gunman' says he was hired by anti-govt protesters

Thai 'popcorn gunman' says he was hired by anti-govt protesters
CLASHES: Anti-government protesters take cover as a wounded man is carried away during clashes with police in Bangkok last month.

A Thai gunman who gained national notoriety after opening fire at a political clash with an assault rifle in a popcorn bag said on Thursday he had been hired by anti-government protesters.

Images of Wiwat Yodprasit, nicknamed the "popcorn gunman", went viral after he was seen during a dramatic gunfight with government supporters in Bangkok on Feb 1 wearing a balaclava and bulletproof vest.

He said he was paid about 300 baht (S$12) a day to act as a guard for the movement, which wants to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The 24-year-old told a press conference: "The head of protest security gave me an M16 to use... I fired 20 bullets. I used the popcorn bag to keep the bullet casings from falling to the ground."

Protest leaders have repeatedly denied that their guards or supporters carry weapons.

He was arrested on Wednesday at a temple in the southern town of Surat Thani.

He faces charges of attempted murder and possession of a gun. He said he had been trained to use the M16 rifle by the protesters' private security guards, AFP reported.

His image has been widely used by protesters as a symbol of defiance against the authorities and the rival pro-government "Red Shirts" movement.

He was identified after the police released a picture of him later removing his balaclava.

Protest spokesman Akanat Promphan said Wiwat was being used by the police as a "scapegoat", without confirming whether he was a security guard for the movement.

"He did not intend to hurt anyone, but to protect innocent people," Mr Akanat said.

The authorities seized on Wiwat's confession as further proof that anti-government demonstrators are armed.

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