Police fought back for the first time yesterday against protesters trying to overthrow Thailand’s government, firing tear gas and rubber bullets in running battles against rock-throwing mobs who tried to force their way into the prime minister’s sand-bagged office complex.
The violence marks the sharpest escalation yet of the conflict between opponents and supporters of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and raises fears of prolonged instability in one of Asia’s biggest economies.
At least three people have been killed and 54 wounded in skirmishes so far, according to police and emergency services.
Most of the casualties occurred at a Bangkok stadium where gunshots rang out early on Sunday for the second day and the body of one protester shot in the chest lay face-up on the ground.
Ms Shinawatra spent the morning in meetings at a Bangkok police complex but cancelled an interview with reporters and evacuated to an undisclosed location because more than a hundred protesters attempted to break in.
Those who made it a few steps inside the vast compound stayed only a few minutes, and did not get anywhere near the heavily protected building where Ms Yingluck was located.
The leader of Thailand’s the protests later told cheering crowds he met the prime minister yesterday and told her he would accept nothing less than her resignation and a new government.
In a defiant tone that drew cheers from his supporters, Suthep Thaugsuban said the meeting was held under the auspices of the military.
The protesters, who mainly support the opposition Democrat Party, accuse Ms Yingluck of being a puppet of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup.
They want to replace her elected government with an unelected “people’s council”.