It's the sounds of gunfire and fireworks, the yelling of anti-government protesters, the screaming of the injured, and the dark plumes of smoke coming from burning tires that make the heart of the Thai capital, Bangkok, look like the site of a civil war.
In four consecutive days of violent clashes between the Thai military and red-shirt protesters, 30 people have been killed and more than 230 have been wounded.
The eruption of violence came nine weeks after an estimated 10,000 red shirt protesters moved into the city's commercial center, where they set up camp.
The Thai government, in an attempt to remove the red shirts from their protest site, has declared that part of the city a “live firing zone”, making anyone walking into those areas at risk of being shot.
Over the past few days, small groups of red-shirt protesters left their protest site and provoked soldiers with fireworks and stones, resulting in a response of gunfire by the soldiers who have been given permission to use live rounds if threatened.
On Sunday the Thai government put out a deadline for the protesters to leave the protest site, saying anyone who hasn't left by 3 p.m. local time on Monday will be forcibly evicted.
Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva—convinced that military intervention is the only way to end the anti-government protest—declared on national television on Saturday that troops will “push forward.”
Although large groups of protesters have left, thousands of protesters are estimated to still be at the protest site. The protesters are living in primitive living conditions, with many of them sleeping on the ground and in the rain. Red-shirt leaders have advised woman and children to move inside a Buddhist temple inside the protest area, to seek shelter from the violence and possible crackdown on Monday.
But red-shirt leaders have all along called on people to stay put and not leave the protest site. At the stage inside the protest site, frequent calls are made to the protesters to stay put.
On Sunday, protest leaders said they were ready to negotiate with the government if troops were immediately withdrawn from the area, and if the United Nations were to help with the negotiations. "We want the U.N. to moderate it because we do not trust anyone else. There is no group in Thailand that is neutral enough," Nattawut Saiku, one of the protest leaders told reporters at the protest site.
The government's response to the red shirts their call for negotiations was that there should be no negotiations attached to negotiations. "If they really want to talk, they should not set conditions like asking us to withdraw troops," Korbsak Sabhavasu, the prime minister's secretary-general, told reporters.
The violence erupted on Thursday evening after a key tactical leader of the red shirt protesters was shot in the head while giving an interview to a newspaper reporter.
The red shirts, many of whom are from the rural, poor areas of Thailand, say that the current prime minister belongs to the rich elite and was never elected by the people. Vejjajiva came to power in 2006 with the support of the military after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup.
Previous talks between the Thai government and the red shirts have not resulted in any agreements, although one seemed close after the prime minister offered to step down in November this year—one year before his term ends.
The sense of injustice of the rural poor was increasingly stirred up by former Prime Minister Shinawatra who, despite having been convicted of a conflict of interest involving his commercial businesses, has made himself popular by taking measures to help the country's poor.
Now, sealed off from food and water, and with only enough supplies to last a few days, according to red shirt leaders, it is unclear how the tense situation will end. But with each death, resentment builds and the gap between the government and the red shirts seems to grow, making a quick end to the standoff less likely.