Thai protests turn deadly
4 killed, PM evacuated to undisclosed locationAssociated Press . Bangkok
The police in Thailand fought off mobs of rock-throwing protesters armed with petrol bombs who tried to battle their way into the government’s heavily-fortified headquarters Sunday, as gunshots rang out in Bangkok and the prime minister fled a police complex during the sharpest escalation yet of the country’s latest crisis.
The protests, aimed at toppling Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration, have renewed fears of prolonged instability in one of Southeast Asia’s biggest economies. Sunday marked the first time police have used force since demonstrations began in earnest a week ago — a risky strategy that many fear could trigger more bloodshed.
At least four people have been killed and 103 injured in skirmishes so far, according to police and the state’s emergency medical services. The deaths occurred at a Bangkok stadium where shooting was heard Sunday for the second day and the body of one protester shot in the chest lay face-up on the ground.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban urged all civil
servants to go on strike on Monday although it was unclear how many would heed his call, which was rejected by the government, AFP reported.
The unrest forced several of the capital’s biggest and glitziest shopping malls to close in the heart of the city and snarled traffic. Mobs also besieged several television stations, demanding they broadcast the protesters’ views and not the government’s.
With skirmishes around Yingluck’s office at Government House continuing as darkness fell, the government advised Bangkok residents to stay indoors overnight for their safety.
Yingluck spent the morning in meetings at a Bangkok police complex but evacuated to an undisclosed location and cancelled an interview with reporters after more than a hundred protesters attempted to break into the compound, according to her secretary, Wim Rungwattanajinda.
Several demonstrators interviewed by The Associated Press, however, were unaware Yingluck was inside. Those who made it a few steps into the vast complex stayed only a few minutes, and Wim said they did not get anywhere near the heavily protected building where Yingluck was located.
‘We want Yingluck to get out of power! She must go!’ said Sothorn Kerdkaew, an agriculture student with a Thai flag who was standing outside the police complex.
Political instability has plagued Thailand since the military ousted Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 coup. Two years later, anti-Thaksin demonstrators occupied Bangkok’s two airports for a week after taking over the prime minister’s office for three months, and in 2010 pro-Thaksin protesters occupied downtown Bangkok for weeks in a standoff that ended with parts of the city in flames and more than 90 dead.
Any further deterioration is likely to scare away investors as well as tourists who come to Thailand by the millions and contribute 10 percent to the $602 billion economy, Southeast Asia’s second largest after Indonesia. It is also likely to undermine Thailand’s democracy, which had built up in fits and starts interrupted by coups.
The latest unrest began last month after an ill-advised bid by Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party to push an amnesty law through Parliament that would have allowed the return of her self-exiled brother, who was overthrown after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
The bill failed to pass the upper house of parliament, emboldening protesters, who drew 100,000 people to a mass rally in Bangkok one week ago. Then, over the past week, they seized the finance ministry, camped at a sprawling government office complex, cut power to the national police headquarters and briefly broken into the army headquarters compound to urge the military to support them.
The demonstrators, who accuse Yingluck of being her brother’s puppet, are a minority who mainly support the opposition Democrat Party. They want to replace Yingluck’s popularly elected government with an unelected ‘people’s council,’ but they have been vague about what that means.
Some of Sunday’s most dramatic scenes played out in front of Government House, where more than 1,000 protesters wearing bandanas and plastic bags over their heads hurled stones, bottles and sticks at police, who fought back with rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas over barricades that separated them. Protesters clipped away at coils of barbed wire that surrounded the compound, pushed over barriers and at one point tried to drag one way with a green rope tied to a truck.
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