Gun attack on anti-government protesters in Bangkok raises fears of escalating violence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 5:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 5:23am

Seven people were wounded when gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on anti-government protesters in Bangkok early yesterday, heightening fears of worsening violence when protesters attempt to "shut down" the capital this week in a bid to overthrow the government.

The gunmen began shooting in central Bangkok at around 2am, and at least one other attack took place nearby, police said.

"Unidentified assailants opened fire in the early hours of this morning ... at an intersection near the Khao San Road tourist area. Altogether seven people were injured, most of them anti-government protesters," said national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew.

The attack came just hours after clashes between government supporters and protesters outside Bangkok left at least six people hurt.

The incidents occurred as authorities draw up plans to deploy more than 14,000 troops and police on Bangkok's streets from tomorrow.

From then, protesters led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban will seek to paralyse the city for between 15 and 20 days.

The turmoil is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.

The protesters accuse the Shinawatra family of corruption and nepotism. Yingluck called a snap election for February 2, but the move failed to placate protesters, who want her government to resign to make way for an unelected people's council to oversee political reform.

Many Thais believe the military will soon step in to break the political deadlock - especially if the protests turn more violent - and rumours of an impending coup have intensified.

Fears of more clashes between rival factions escalated after pro-government "red shirts" announced they would stage their own march tomorrow in provinces neighbouring Bangkok.

At a celebration to mark national Children's Day yesterday, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said he feared an escalation in violence this week.

"I want to tell all sides they must not clash with each other ... we are all Thais and can live together despite our differences," said Prayuth.

Security forces have been deployed across the capital to protect key sites including the prime minister's office, Bangkok's main airport and the city's water and electricity authorities.