Thailand's army chief warns military may act to end political violence

General says he may deploy troops to crack down on political violence in Bangkok after three anti-government protesters die in attack

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 9:31am

The chief of Thailand's army warned yesterday that his troops "may use force" to quell political violence, after three people were killed in a grenade and gun attack on protesters in Bangkok.

Watch: Grenade attack on Thai protest camp kills three

The rare official statement from General Prayuth Chan-ocha followed a call by Thai election authorities for July polls to be postponed because of the unrest.

"I want to warn every group - especially those who use violence and war weapons against innocent civilians - to stop now because if the violence continues the military may be needed to come out ... to restore peace and order," Prayuth said.

He said his troops "may need to use force to resolve the situation", and threatened "decisive measures" if civilians are hurt.

Unknown assailants fired two grenades into a protest camp early yesterday at the capital's Democracy Monument followed by a burst of gunfire.

Bangkok's Erawan emergency centre said three people were killed and 23 wounded.

The latest bloodshed comes as demonstrators push for the appointment of an unelected prime minister. That has infuriated government supporters, who last week were dealt a blow after a controversial court ruling ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office.

The Thai military, which has staged 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932, has been at pains to stay neutral in public during six-months of political turmoil that has pitted Yingluck's family against the kingdom's royalist establishment, despite pressure by anti-government protesters to step in on their behalf.

Observers say the army may be chastened by events of 2010, when it led a crackdown on pro-government "red shirts" gathered in Bangkok that left scores dead.

Red-shirt leaders, who are hosting a mass rally on the city's outskirts, have warned of an imminent military coup and the risk of civil war if power is handed to an unelected leader.

Yesterday's deaths take the toll from six months of protests aimed at toppling the government to 28, with hundreds of others wounded in attacks mostly targeting opposition protesters.

Demonstrators stormed a meeting between the government and the Election Commission yesterday, forcing caretaker prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan (pictured) and other ministers to flee.

The bloodied ruling party wants to bolster its authority and is likely to win fresh elections - parties led by or allied to Yingluck's older brother Thaksin Shinawatra have swept every poll since 2001.

The military may be needed to come out ... to restore peace and order

But commission secretary general Puchong Nutrawong said the July 20 poll "is no longer possible". Holding elections in early August was one option, although polls "cannot be held if protesters do not agree".

An election held in February was later annulled after demonstrators blocked voting in many areas.

Anti-government protesters refuse to back new polls until vaguely defined reforms are agreed. They say the ruling Puea Thai party administration lacks the legitimacy to govern.

They are calling on the upper house of parliament, the Senate, to invoke a clause in the kingdom's constitution to remove the government and appoint a new prime minister.

But their critics say such a move has no legal basis.

Thailand has been torn apart by political divisions since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and later fled overseas to avoid jail for corruption.