BANGKOK – Police guarded Thailand’s seat of government and other key locations and braced for more violence today, after political protests erupted into street fighting between supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The clashes that started Saturday and continued this morning had left at least two people dead and 45 wounded, authorities said.
Gunshots were fired early today in the northeastern neighborhood of Bangkok where clashes broke out the day before, but it was not clear who was responsible or who was targeted, said Police Col. Narongrit Promsawat. The violence occurred near a stadium holding a large pro-government rally.
But it was just one of several pockets of tension and possible volatility as anti-government protesters vowed to push ahead with a plan to seize the well-guarded prime minister’s offices and other key government buildings.
More than 1,000 protesters faced off with riot police outside Government House, as organizers of the rally distributed towels and water and advised protesters what to do if police fired tear gas.
“We’re all brothers and sisters,” police shouted through a loudspeaker. “Please don’t try to come in!”
Demonstrators took to the streets a week ago seeking to topple Yingluck’s government, which they believe serves the interests of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.
Authorities have exercised extreme restraint over the past week as the protesters besieged and occupied parts of various government ministries and offices. But police have warned they will not allow protesters to enter Government House, the Parliament or other key offices.
The violence has stirred fears of further instability like what plagued the country during related political conflicts in 2006, 2008 and 2010. In 2008, anti-Thaksin demonstrators occupied Bangkok’s two airports for a week after taking over the prime minister’s office for three months.
Any escalation is likely to scare away tourists who come to Thailand by the millions and contribute a huge chunk to the economy.