Hundreds of riot police attempted to clear out anti-government protest sites around Thailand’s capital yesterday, triggering clashes that left four people dead and 64 injured.
Multiple gunshots were heard near the prime minister’s offices, where riot police had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage.
Witnesses said shots were fired by both sides. Police later withdrew.
In another blow for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the state anti-corruption agency yesterday accused her of improperly handling an expensive rice subsidy scheme, putting her in jeopardy of being impeached.
The Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck’s government proceeded with the scheme despite advice from experts that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption.
The government has been months late in making payments to farmers for the rice they pledged to sell at above market prices.
The commission said Yingluck has been called to formerly hear the charges on Thursday next week.
If it decides to submit the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck will immediately be suspended from performing her official duties pending a Senate trial.
Yingluck’s elected government has been attempting to avoid violence to keep the powerful military from stepping in.
Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.
Erawan emergency medical services said three civilians and a police officer died and 64 others were injured in yesterday’s clashes, including a journalist working for Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.
The violence erupted after police moved into several locations around the city to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Yingluck’s resignation.
They want the formation of an unelected people’s council to implement reforms to end corruption and keep the Shinawatra family out of politics.
They have blocked access to government offices since late last year and occupied key intersections around Bangkok for about a month.
Until now, the police had refrained from dispersing them for fear of unleashing violence.
However, on Monday, the government’s special security command center announced it would reclaim five protest sites around the capital for public use, a move made possible under a 60-day state of emergency declared last month.
Thousands of police officers, including armed anti-riot squads, were deployed across the city yesterday in an operation the government called “Peace for Bangkok.”
The operations came a day before the Thai Civil Court is to rule on the government’s invocation of the emergency decree, which allows authorities to exercise wide powers to detain protesters and hold them in custody for 30 days without charges.
If the decree is struck down by the court, the government will be forced to dismantle the special security command center it had set up to enforce the emergency measures.