Thailand's darkest day
Saturday day started quietly, but ended with 21 deaths as Thais battled each other on the streets of Bangkok.
I've had a couple of days now to reflect on what I witnessed in Bangkok on Saturday night, and the sights and sounds of Thais battling each other still saddens me.
For myself and the rest of the crew - cameraman Mark Giddens and producer Siwaporn Tee - the day started quietly, with no firm plans released to us by the leaders of the red shirted anti-government protestors.
But at lunchtime, all that changed very quickly.
Walking towards our van near the protest site in the commercial district of the city, red shirts chanting grabbed our attention.
They were telling us the police were coming to break up their month-long rally.
We ran with them for two blocks to a main intersection leading into the area to find several hundred riot police spanning the road.
They had already been surrounded by red shirts and a tense standoff developed.
The police commander told us their mission was to simply hold their ground and to not necessarily push into the rally site.
Word was filtering through that the mission of the military in other parts of the city was a lot more ominous. So, armed with helmets, bullet proof vests and gas masks, we hired motorcycles and sped off into what was quickly to become a battle zone.
Our destination was the edge of the red shirts' original protest site at Phan Fa Bridge. We arrived to find a line of soldiers facing the protesters, preparing to push towards them with large shields and battons. Behind them, more soldiers armed with guns.
It was a tense, surreal scene. As the two groups stood face to face, some chatted with their opposites. Others shared water on what was another extremely hot day in Bangkok.
Then, in a flash, the mood changed as the soldiers' shields were raised and they began to push forward into the very people they had been talking to just moments earlier.
When it became clear the reds wouldn't retreat and in fact, pushed back, the order came to fire. Dozens of soldiers emptied hundreds of rounds into the air and fired teargas cannisters into the crowd.
Soldiers set upon
The protesters responded by throwing anything they could get their hands on, and when soldiers became isolated, they were set upon and beaten before the more conservative red shirts helped them back to their feet and back to safe ground.
The fighting continued for no more than 20 minutes before the firing stopped and the soldiers took a step backwards conceding ground to their determined countrymen.
The peace was temporary, as the frontline of soldiers soon assumed an offensive position and once again began their push. This battle was to be more fierce than the last.
I happened to be on the telephone, reporting live to Al Jazeera what I had just witnessed when a massive volley of fire broke out.
Caught on the edge between the two sides, I sheltered behind a wall and continued to describe the scene.
At times I would hold the phone up into the air so the television audience could hear the constant gunshots. The director back in the studio later admitted to me she thought I'd been shot because I often stopped talking so the viewers could hear the sounds.
At one stage I had to move positions to hide behind a vehicle, but a teargas cannister landed near me and as my throat and eyes filled with the acrid smoke, I had to tell the presenter that I couldn't continue with the live cross.
I fumbled for my gas mask, but was too late. I was immobilised, but was lucky enough to be beside a red shirt who had water that I used to splash onto my
face and sooth my eyes. When I got back to my feet, the battle was still raging.
An injured protester raced towards me bleeding badly from a wound on his arm. The woman with him was screaming at me for help, but they were soon ushered in the direction of an ambulance in the distance.
When the fighting stopped, I was reunited with the other two members of our team from whom I had become isolated during the skirmish.
When the smoke cleared we found that the military had retreated about 100 metres down the road. They eventually pulled back even further and appeared to be withdrawing from the area completely.
With a blackhawk helicopter circling above, we decided we had enough footage so we headed back to our base to file a story.
We soon learned though that we had to be quick because as the sun was going down, reports were coming in that the violence was worsening close to the very area we had just left.
With the original story filed, it was clear we had to go back. During the 20-minute ride, the dark streets were eerily quiet for a Saturday night as residents presumably stayed indoors to avoid the trouble.
The closer we got though, the busier and more sinister the scene became.
Ambulances raced to and from the area, sirens blaring, and lines of troops marched down the road.
After arriving, we came in behind the soldiers, many of whom were resting on the side of the street, readying themselves for more action.
But walking past their armoured vehicles and towards the red shirts, it became evident there was little rest to be had. This was the front line, and while it was quiet for now, the fighting would certainly resume.
The only significant sound came from speakers on top of a military vehicle which were broadcasting jazz music in an attempt to keep the situation calm.
We walked through the lines of soldiers facing thousands of protesters, and beyond them Democracy Monument.
We went to the side so we could be in the best position when the peace ended again.
After walking for just a few metres, gunfire erupted. We found shelter behind an abandoned stall which had probably been used to sell food to the red shirts only a few hours earlier.
Two explosions followed soon after.
They came from where the army was gathered. In the confusion of the moment, it wasn't clear to me what caused them, but having since watched video footage of the incident, it's obvious someone fired something into the soldiers, possibly grenades.
The wounded could be seen being dragged away screaming in pain.
At the head of the red shirts' line, one of their large trucks carrying several protesters, was pushing up against the military. On top of it, a leader was screaming into a microphone, trying to encourage his followers to keep up the fight.
We pushed further out into the sea of red which was surging forward, as the soldiers kept firing tear gas and rubber coated bullets.
In the bright lights of the monument, what appeared to be live rounds could be seen hitting the columns, sending dust and concrete chips flying into the night sky, while other projectiles were heard whistling above our heads.
Among the madness, some idiotic tourists were trying to get a holiday snap of Thais killing each other.
After a few hours of fighting, puncuated by moments of peace, the struggle was over.
Word filtered through that the military had been ordered to pull back to avoid more bloodshed, and the soldiers retreated down the road leaving their vehicles behind.
The red shirts started celebrating. They claimed they had won the battle for Democracy Monument.
But soon after the ceasefire, the area swarmed with ambulances coming to collect the many injured and the dead. It then became clear that both sides had lost.
We began to walk out of the area through the tourist nightlife area of Khaosan Road. It should have been full of party-goers, but the bars and restaurants were shut.
The area was littered with debris. Vehicles were destroyed, buildings peppered with bullet holes and the ground stained with blood.
Twenty-one people had lost their lives in one of Thailand's darkest days.
It left me wondering whether an early election is really worth dying for, or clinging to power really worth killing for.