Thai police yesterday fired tear gas and detained dozens of demonstrators as clashes erupted at the first major street protests against Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.
About 17,000 police were deployed for the rally in Bangkok’s historic district, which was organized by the royalist group Pitak Siam, a relatively new force in the kingdom’s fractured political scene.
“In the name of Pitak Siam and its allies I promise that we will topple this government,” the movement’s head, retired general Boonlert Kaewprasit, declared from the rally stage.
The authorities expected tens of thousands of people to attend the demonstration, which came about two and a half years after dozens of people died in a military crackdown on opposition protests in the heart of the capital. By early afternoon police estimated that about 12,000 people had turned out.
Police said they fired tear gas at a group of protesters who removed barbed wire and barriers blocking their route in front of a UN building close to the main rally site.
“Tear gas was used in one area because protesters did not comply with the rules,” national police spokesman Major General Piya Uthayo said. About 100 protesters were detained while knives and bullets were confiscated, he said.
Seventeen people, including seven police officers, were treated for cuts and other injuries, officials said.
The authorities called in an extra 5,700 police after the skirmishes, but said they would allow the rally to go ahead at the Royal Plaza as long as the other protesters gathered peacefully.
The demonstrators, who included supporters of the Yellow Shirt royalist movement, called on Yingluck’s government to stand down.
“I can’t stand that they disrespect the king. I want the government to quit,” 48-year-old farmer Namsai Jantarat from the northern province of Chiang Mai said.
Yingluck on Thursday voiced fears the protesters aimed to use violence and to “overthrow an elected government and democratic rule,” in a televised address to the nation.
The government has invoked a special security law, the Internal Security Act (ISA), in three districts of the capital to cope with possible unrest.
“This government ignores widespread disrespect of the monarchy and even supports the perpetrators. It is a puppet of [ousted prime minister] Thaksin [Shinawatra],” Pitak Siam spokesman Vachara Riddhagni told reporters ahead of the demonstration.