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Descent into chaos

Dec 01. 2013
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By The Nation

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POLICE fought anti-government protesters with tear gas and chemically treated water yesterday, as thousands of demonstrators attempted to force their way into key government offices.

Violence in Bangkok left at least three people dead and more than 50 others injured. Most of these casualties occurred at Ramkhamhaeng University, where thousands of people, mostly students, were gathering to protest against the government.

Another 46 people were injured by tear-gas fired by police to disperse protesters in about a dozen other sites.

Shots were fired into the university sporadically from Saturday night until yesterday morning. Terrified students, who were forced to stay overnight on the university campus, were yesterday evacuated by military personnel.

Red-shirt leaders also claimed casualties among government supporters gathering inside the adjacent Rajamangala Stadium and quickly announced an end to their pro-government rally following the violence. Red-shirt leader Natthawut Saikuar said the red-shirt rally would be ended to allow the government and police to concentrate on the anti-government protesters.

Key television stations broadcast or covered live yesterday’s announcement by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban following the protesters’ seizure of six TV stations.

The protesters yesterday managed to take control of 10 out of 13 locations intended for occupation, except Government House, the Royal Thai Police headquarters and the Metropolitan Police Bureau, according to former Democrat MP Sathit Wongnongtaey, now a protest leader.

Police Maj-General Piya Uthayo, spokesman for the government’s Centre for Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), told a press conference yesterday that police had resorted to firing tear gas at protesters on Chamai Maruchet Bridge, next to Government House, and near the Metropolitan Police Bureau headquarters. The decision to use tear gas was based on police security procedures, he said, adding that the two sites each had around 3,000 protesters.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who is also secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), instructed state officials throughout the nation to stop working from today in a campaign to oust Yingluck’s government and to "uproot the Thaksin regime".

He said the Yingluck government’s legitimacy had run out, after it violated the Constitution when the ruling Pheu Thai Party rejected the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court over its judgement in the Constitution-amendment case.

"From now on, the great people’s movement will help protect the Constitution and cooperate with the PDRC to change the country into a perfectly democratic one, and reform the country for the sake of justice."

Suthep’s first official announcement was televised live by all networks except for the Public Relations Department’s NBT. Protesters stormed into the television stations in the capital to force them to follow Suthep’s instruction.

State officials should stop working until the situation returns to normal, Suthep said, and noted that all television network must stop broadcasting events only from the government’s perspective. The media must report only news from the PDRC and the general situation, he added.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday urged both sides in the conflict to reconcile, asking the police to stop using tear gas and the protesters to halt their activities.

Deputy Army spokesman Winthai Suwaree said Prayuth pleaded with both sides to stop what they were doing, a Thai Rath Online Twitter message said.

The Army chief also offered to find a way for both sides to hold future talks, according to a spokesman. He added that Prayuth felt uneasy monitoring the situation from inside the First Army Division.

"We soldiers are sorry that we can do nothing. We don’t want to see clashes between the people and police," the spokesman quoted the Army chief as saying.

In the wake of the violence, the government last night suggested that people not leave home from 10pm yesterday to 5am today, but stopped short of imposing a curfew.

Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok, who is in charge of CAPO, made the announcement on NBT television station. It was also broadcast on other major free-TV stations.

Responding to Suthep’s announcement, Pracha said government agencies would be open as usual today. He added that Suthep does not have the authority to tell state media what to report and what not to cover.

"Suthep’s crime is treason punishable by death, or life in prison – and his means are not peaceful," he said.

Pracha said the government was still in control of the situation but willing to listen to all sides. "We are the government of all people. We are acting in the best interest of the country. We will do our best to restore peace."

He claimed a "third party" was causing trouble that may endanger protesters’ lives. Of the three fatalities, two were government supporters, he said.

Also present at the press conference last night were Deputy Premier Phongthep Thepkanjana, Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Deputy Premier Plodprasob Suraswadi and Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.

One of the protest leaders, Chumphon Junsai, said his group would stay overnight at the intersection between the First Infantry Division and the Metropolitan Police Bureau. The protesters tried to break down barriers but were strongly resisted by anti-riot police with tear gas.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s whereabouts were unknown yesterday although her secretary said that she was still in Thailand, discounting earlier rumours that she had left the country.

Wim Rungwattanajinda, secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office showed photos of the prime minister taking part in a meeting with officials at the police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau.


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