Victims share the bitter pain of Bangkok street clashes

BANGKOK - A junior policeman has become a hero for kicking away a grenade in his bid to protect colleagues during a Bangkok clash - but his wife thinks his fame has come at too high a price.

"If I could choose, I just wish his legs returned to normal," the 48-year-old wife said. Her husband, Pol Senior Sgt-Maj Thiradej Lekphu, said he acted out of instinct and a belief it was better he was hurt than to see his colleagues dead.

Thiradej was gravely injured in the legs as the grenade went off while he was not fully protected behind his bullet-proof shield.

It remains unclear who hurled the grenade into the line of shield-holding policemen. But on that same day, protester Satta Sae Dan was fatally shot while trying to help other demonstrators in the face of alleged police attacks.

Satta has left behind his wife and their three children, the youngest being just a year old. "I am so sad. But I won't give up my struggle against the current government," Satta's wife Jongjit said. "I am sure my husband would have supported my decision if he was still alive today."

Satta, who is from Yala, and his wife came to Bangkok on February 15 to join anti-government rallies.

He was among four civilians killed as a result of the bloody clashes between police and demonstrators in the capital on Tuesday.

Also killed was Pol Senior Sgt Maj Phienchai Pharawat, 46. He worked at a police station in Rayong but was summoned to Bangkok to deal with the demonstration.

"I hope the situation will end soon. I don't want to see anyone else lose their beloved," Phienchai's wife Pornpimon said tearfully.

Phienchai has left behind his wife and two children, aged 15 and 12 years.

National police chief Adul Saengsingkaew said Phienchai would be posthumously promoted to the rank of major and his children would receive scholarships till they earned bachelor's degrees.

Adul and several other senior policemen attended the bathing rites for Phienchai at a temple. There, they handed over financial assistance of Bt1.9 million (S$74,000) to Phienchai's family.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a junior policeman said, "I really would like to ask senior policemen whether they are proud about presiding over the bathing rites for their junior…Why didn't they try to prevent the loss of lives at the very beginning?"

Provincial Police Region 2 chief Kawee Supanan yesterday dismissed widespread rumours that crowd-control police were angry at the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO).

Crowd-control policemen from his region were assigned to the Phan Fah Lilat Bridge area, where the violence erupted with casualties on Tuesday.

Kawee insisted the crowd-control police unit under his supervision had not issued any statement against the CMPO.

"Their morale is good and they are ready to carry out their duty," he said.

A number of policemen visited Thiradej at the Police General Hospital yesterday to express moral support. Many complained that senior policemen failed to provide safety for the crowd-control officers who were dispatched to confront the demonstrators.

Kawee condemned the grenade attack against police, saying that policemen were armed with only batons and shields.

At the same time, Kawee expressed admiration for Thiradej.

"Thanks to his courage, he has saved many of his colleagues," Kawee said.

Speaking from the hospital, Thiradej said he decided to tackle the grenade himself because he was concerned his colleagues would panick, stand up, lose full shield protection, and get hurt if he told them about the grenade.

Kawee said after he saw several policemen injured on Tuesday, he ordered police to retreat. "But one of them was still shot while we were withdrawing," he lamented.

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