About 30,000 protesters launched a “people’s coup” on Thailand’s government yesterday, swarming state agencies in violent clashes, taking control of a state broadcaster and forcing the prime minister to flee a police compound.
However, after a day of skirmishes between protesters hurling stones and gasoline bombs against riot police firing back with teargas, the demonstrators failed to breach heavily barricaded Government House, the office of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, although the number of protesters began to swell as night fell.
“They haven’t seized a single place,” Thai National Security Council head Paradorn Pattanathabutr said.
Meanwhile, the government told people in Bangkok to stay indoors from 10pm last night until 5am today after a day of violence.
“After 10pm until 5am, if it is not neccessary, we ask people to not leave their homes for their safety so they will not become victims of provocateurs,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok said in a televised address.
The protesters sowed chaos in one of Southeast Asia’s biggest cities, breaching a police line, seizing seven police trucks and forcing Yingluck to move to an undisclosed location from a building where she was to give media interviews.
Small fires burned from gasoline bombs that landed by police trucks. Protesters pulled at barbed wire fences as others washed teargas from their eyes with bottled water.
It is the latest dramatic turn in a conflict pitting Bangkok’s urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly rural poor supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
The deep detonation of stun grenades, followed by the jeers of protesters, echoed across the historic government quarter, not far from Bangkok’s Khao San Road backpacker area, after a chaotic night of gun and knife battles in east Bangkok in which four people were killed and at least 57 wounded.
Hospitals reported 47 people injured yesterday.
Police spokesman Piya Utayo said troops would forcibly dislodge protesters who have occupied a government complex since Thursday and the Ministry of Finance since Monday.
“We have sent forces to these places to take back government property,” he said on national TV.
Journalists waiting to interview Yingluck inside the police Narcotics Suppression Bureau were told by Natthriya Thaweevong, an aide to the prime minister, that she had left after protesters made it inside the outer part of the compound, the Police Sports Club, where the bureau is located.
Protesters massed in front of a police barricade outside Wat Benjamabhopit, also known as the Marble Temple. Police fired teargas as some tried to heave aside rows of concrete barriers.
“I just want the people named Shinawatra to get on a plane and go somewhere — and please, don’t come back,” said Chatuporn Tirawongkusol, 33, whose family runs a Bangkok restaurant.
Outside the Metropolitan Police Bureau, about 3,000 protesters rallied, accusing riot-clad police of being manipulated by Thaksin, a former policeman who rose to become a telecommunications magnate before entering politics and winning back-to-back elections in 2001 and 2005.
The area around Government House was a scene of nearly nonstop skirmishes, as police fired teargas into the stone-throwing crowd. A Reuters photographer saw protesters hurl at least a dozen gasoline bombs into police positions from a college campus across a canal from Government House.