Bangkok anti-government protests turn violent as crowd ups the ante

One killed by gunfire near stadium holding mass pro-government rally, while protest gangs attack red-shirt bus and pelt police with bottles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 December, 2013, 6:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 December, 2013, 6:23am

Thailand's government has called on the army to protect government buildings as mass opposition protests turned violent yesterday with one person shot dead and several wounded.

Opposition demonstrators attacked a bus carrying "red shirt" government supporters heading to their own rally at a sports stadium in Bangkok, throwing stones and other objects.

Protesters also hurled bottles at police near the venue, where more than 70,000 red-shirts were gathered. Gunshots were later fired near the stadium, leaving several wounded, according to police, although the circumstances of the attack were unclear.

"A 21-year-man was shot dead by two bullets to his left side," said Boonchuay Pochantong, a police official.

Witnesses saw two people on a motorcycle badly beaten, with one left unconscious, and an angry mob using poles and sticks to attack a taxi and a packed bus, accusing the occupants of being red shirts.

The attack took place in the city's densely populated Ramkamhaeng area, home to the Rajamangala stadium, where red- shirts, fearing a military coup was possible, rallied in support of embattled prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The US embassy in Bangkok expressed concern about the rising political tension.

Demonstrators used piles of sandbags to try to climb over barriers protecting Yingluck's offices at Government House, but were prevented by police from entering. Yingluck was not believed to be present at the time. With the situation deteriorating, authorities announced more than 2,700 troops would be mobilised to reinforce security in the capital.

"We have information that there will be efforts to escalate violence in several areas," said National Police spokesman Piya Utayo. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said demonstrators would try again today to take control of Yingluck's offices.

"Tomorrow our group will enter the area of Government House," he said in a speech to supporters. "We need to break the law a little bit if we are going to achieve our goals," he said.

The tension heightens a decade-long conflict that broadly pits Thailand's traditional establishment of top generals, royalists and the urban middle class against the mostly rural, northern supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother.

He was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled into exile in 2008.

A crowd of about 2,000 people massed outside state-owned telecommunications companies TOT and CAT. Some internet services were interrupted when protesters shut off power at CAT.

In a televised news conference, Yingluck said security would be increased.

"We have chosen to be considered as a weak government by not using force," she said at a briefing at police headquarters in the capital.

Yingluck's son was harassed by parents of other children at his school on Friday, according to Thai media.

In an emotional plea, she urged them to leave her son alone. "I beg, if you have children you'll understand the heart of a mother," she said. "If you're angry, please make it all about me."

Police say protester numbers peaked at 100,000 last Sunday and were just 7,000 on Friday.

"We will not allow protesters to seize Government House, parliament or the national police headquarters," National Security Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr said. "We have roadblocks and other blockades in place to stop them."

Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse