Thai police said yesterday that they had arrested a key anti-government protest leader and charged him with offences including insurrection, risking further political confrontations even though a court freed him on bail hours later.
Immigration police arrested Sakhontee Phattiyagul on Friday night at one of Bangkok's two international airports upon his return from a trip to the United States, said Tharit Pengdit, director general of the Department of Special Investigation.
Sakhontee is a leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, which has been staging anti-government demonstrations in Thailand's capital since November. The group wants Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down and disrupted a general election held in February. It insists that an interim unelected government be appointed to implement measures against corruption and money politics.
Sakhontee was arrested on multiple charges, including insurrection, Tharit said. Thai media reported that a court yesterday released him on 600,000 baht (HK$144,000) bail.
The protests have engendered an atmosphere of violence in Bangkok, where a pro-government activist was killed on Wednesday by unidentified gunmen, and grenades were fired at a newspaper headquarters and a court on Thursday night, also by unknown attackers.
There are fears the tempo of violence may increase as legal challenges to Yingluck's position, initiated by her political foes, come close to fruition over the next month.
Police have been frustrated in their attempts to arrest protest leaders, thwarted by courts quickly granting bail and legal rulings calling the demonstrations allowable under the constitution, even though many have turned violent.
The judiciary is seen as part of the Thai establishment, which is hostile to Yingluck's government.
Thailand has been plagued by political strife since a 2006 coup ousted then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, after demonstrators accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Since the military coup, Thaksin's opponents and supporters have contended for power, staging sometimes-violent street demonstrations.