Anti-government demonstrators in Thailand resumed street protests yesterday after lying low for weeks, piling pressure on increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is expected to face impeachment within days.
Her opponents were emboldened by a Constitutional Court decision on Friday to nullify last month's election, delaying the formation of a new administration and leaving Yingluck in charge of a caretaker government with limited powers.
Yingluck's opponents first took to the streets in late November. Twenty-three people were killed and hundreds wounded in the political violence before the protests began to subside earlier this month. But the court ruling appears to have given her foes a second wind.
The protests are the latest instalment of an eight-year political battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
There are growing fears that Thailand could be heading towards serious civil unrest. After months of restraint, Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters have begun making militant noises under hardline new leaders.
They plan a big rally on April 5, possibly in Bangkok. The political atmosphere is expected to become even more highly charged in coming days.
Yingluck has until March 31 to defend herself before the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for dereliction of duty over a ruinous rice-buying scheme that has run up huge losses.
If the commission recommends her impeachment, she could be removed from office by the upper house Senate, which is likely to have an anti-Thaksin majority after an election is organised for half its members on March 30.
In a sign of the potential trouble ahead, 100 red-shirts blocked entrances to the NACC's offices in north Bangkok with sandbags to prevent officials there from working as police formed a wall to stop the group from facing off with anti-government protesters gathered nearby.
Earlier, red-shirt supporters attacked a Buddhist monk, slightly injuring him, near the NACC offices after he insulted them for blocking a road in front of the complex.