BANGKOK — Police fired tear gas Sunday at anti-government protesters armed with gasoline bombs who were trying to force their way into the prime minister’s complex and police headquarters.
For most of the past week, protests remained peaceful. But on Saturday, the seventh day of protests, clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters turned violent around Ramkhamhaeng University, with at least three people killed overnight and dozens injured, according to police. Witnesses reported more shots Sunday near the university and an adjoining stadium that’s been a base for government supporters.
“We can’t take any more of this corrupt government,” said Adi Ngo, a protester, as demonstrators nearby tried to breach concrete barriers and razor-wire-lined police barriers around Thailand’s seat of government. “This government doesn’t obey the law.”
Anti-government leaders declared Sunday “victory day” in what they’ve termed a “people’s coup,” urging their supporters to take over 10 government offices, six television stations, police headquarters and the prime minister’s offices in a bid to undermine the government.
The protest movement, which fell well short of its Sunday “coup” objective, wants to overthrow the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they accuse of being a puppet for her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin remains in self-imposed exile after his 2008 conviction on corruption charges.
Sunday was the first day the police used significant force against demonstrators. “The use of tear gas is part of our procedures,” Piya Utayo, a national police spokesman, said on television.
Protesters descended on at least three television networks calling on them to broadcast their views and not those of the government. A government-run station, Thai Public Broadcasting Service, continued with its regular programming as it attempted to negotiate with protesters.
Continued unrest has led foreign governments to issue travel advisories. Bangkok airports have also advised passengers to allow extra time when catching flights given protracted traffic jams. And several of Bangkok’s largest shopping centers were forced to close.
The prime minister also reportedly fled a police compound and postponed a planned news conference when several dozen protesters attempted to get into her heavily guarded offices.
As darkness fell, several government ministers advised Thais to stay off Bangkok streets until dawn to avoid trouble.
The crisis erupted when Yingluck’s government submitted a bill to parliament that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon and former premier who was ousted in a coup in 2006, paving the way for him to return to Thailand and potentially run for office.
Although the measure was defeated in the Senate, it shattered an uneasy political calm in place since Yingluck was elected in 2011 between less-educated or prosperous rural voters and more urban Thais more closely associated with the monarchy and the army.
This political crisis is the worst since 2010 when Thaksin supporters inhabited parts of the capital for two months before being routed in a government crackdown. The two-month standoff killed 91 people and wounded hundreds.