Things started relatively smoothly for the government on Tuesday. Al Jazeera:

Earlier Tuesday, 144 protesters near the Energy Ministry in the northern part of the city were peacefully detained and herded onto police trucks to be taken away for questioning, police sources said.

“There was no resistance,” said National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut. “They were overwhelmed by the police force.”

This didn’t last for long though. AP:

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.

….

Erawan emergency medical services said three civilians and a police officer died and 64 others were injured in Tuesday’s clashes, including a journalist working for Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.

Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit told a news conference that the protesters had launched grenades at the police.

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.

But on Monday, the government’s special security command center announced it would reclaim five protest sites around the city for public use, a move made possible under a state of emergency declared in January. Thousands of police officers, including armed anti-riot squads, were deployed across the city Tuesday in an operation the government called “Peace for Bangkok.”

BP: Since then a 5th person – also a civilian (protester?) – has died – which you see from the Erawan Center Web site with injuries increasing to 69.

CNN:

Police were trying to clear demonstrators, who have been campaigning against Yingluck for months in central Bangkok.

After police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse crowds of demonstrators in the streets, people among the protesters began firing guns at police.

With the two sides about 200 meters apart, police responded by firing rubber bullets and live ammunition.

During the firefight, which lasted about 20 minutes, a grenade exploded near a group of police officers, knocking them to the ground. At least four of them were wounded, said Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathabut, the national security chief.

Jonathan Head of the BBC:

The atmosphere at Pan Fah, the bridge next to the fort, was a lot more emotional. Earlier the police had managed to grab one well-known protest leader, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, one of more than 30 on their arrest warrant. He was somehow freed, but then gunfire and a grenade were fired at the police, killing one officer and injuring four.

The police attitude hardened. As shouting protesters, many masked and throwing stones, advanced, the police returned volleys of gunfire, the sound echoing off the buildings around us. Medics raced past carrying the injured on plywood boards. They tried frantically to revive one man, his eyes glazed, lying in a spreading pool of blood.

BP: By these accounts, it is clear who fired first. With each protest, there are clearly more and more armed elements amongst the protesters who are prepared to used deadly force.

Time:

Guns and grenade launchers were reportedly brandished near Phan Fah bridge in front of Bangkok’s U.N. compound where protesters were massed. Shortly before noon, police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, but were met with gunshots and grenades from beyond the barricades.

Erawan emergency medical services said a 52-year-old male civilian was killed by a wound to his head and a police officer died from a wound to his chest, reports the Associated Press. Another man also died but further details were not immediately divulged.

According to Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch, unidentified armed forces within the protest camp fired a military grade M-79 grenade launcher.

“This contradicts the pledges from [PDRC chief] Suthep [Thaugsuban] and other protest leaders that resistance to the government will be peaceful and unarmed,” he said. “Each time there was major confrontation, we see armed groups that operate in tandem with protesters.

BP: Indeed.

NYT:

“We insist that we will remain in the seized areas because we don’t want the cabinet and prime minister to return and use their barbaric powers,” said Ekanat Prompan, a former member of Parliament who is a spokesman for the protest movement.

Mr. Ekanat, who spoke on Thai television, said protesters were “peaceful and unarmed” and accused the government of using weapons against them.

But a photographer, Jack Kurtz, was among several witnesses who said he saw a man among the protesters carrying an assault weapon. Mr. Kurtz reported on Twitter that protesters had pushed out photographers when gunfire started and instructed them to stop taking photographs.

Bloomberg:

The demonstrators accused the police of firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at unarmed people.

“The police then mishandled their own explosives and dropped one on their own, injuring their colleagues,” Anchalee Paireerak, another protest leader, told supporters.

BP: Must say that BP was stunned that the PDRC including Suthep on the stage were still blaming the police officer for this and even used the below video (fairly graphic video where police officer goes to kick away the grenade):

BP: Courtesy of long-time BP reader and Thaksin “fan” StanGoesAgain, you can see from this animated gif the trajectory of the grenade as it is thrown at the police hitting one of the shields and it was not clearly dropped. Although, PDRC later they changed their story.

BP: Not sure the source of this quote, but PDRC spokesperson’s FB post states after studying images and video it is unclear ( หลังจากที่ศึกษาภาพและคลิปทั้งหมดต้องยอมรับว่าไม่ชัดเจนจริงๆครับ) and if he is wrong, I apologize to Suthep because I was the one who prepared information for Suthep to say on the stage ( หากผิดพลาดผมเองต้องขออภัยแทนลุงกำนันเพราะเป็นคนจัดเตรียมข้อมูลให้ลุงกำนันพูดบนเวที)…. I apologize to the police officer who had to be injured from his heroism (ผมขออภัยเจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจท่านนั้นที่ต้องบาดเจ็บจากวีรกรรมที่กล้าหาญ).

BP: Then, he goes to blame the authorities for allowing police officers to use force….

Nevertheless, the authorities were poorly prepared from the beginning. Reuters has the NSC boasting they didn’t have tear gas:

Television pictures showed clouds of teargas and police crouching behind riot shields as officers clashed with protesters near Government House. It was not clear who had fired the teargas and the authorities blamed protesters.

“I can guarantee that teargas was not used by security forces. The forces did not take teargas with them,” National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters. “Protesters are the ones who threw teargas at the security forces.”

BP: For now, just assume this is true, why? Police should in particular have all non-lethal weapons with them and made more use of them. Use of live ammunition should be strictly limited and proportionate. Authorities use of force always seems a little haphazard and the margin of error is much greater when it is rubber bullets as opposed to actual guns. But after the grenade attack, the authorities were clearly firing live ammunition – for example, see the below tweets from Jonathan Head of the BBC:

BP: It should be noted that 4 of the dead were non-police officers. Here is a very, very graphic video of a protester being shot (it is a head shot and the person is shot just in front of person with video and well). There is other footage floating around showing police officers beating protesters, but is hard to pin down 100% when it was. Some have been shared widely on social media and and no doubt PDRC protesters will no doubt point to this.* Suthep’s rhetoric has gone up and you can seen the anger online. One police officer being killed – BP understands another is on life support and is in a very critical condition – doesn’t mean the authorities should not be proportionate in their response. BP has no problem with the police returning fire directly at the person shooting at them preferably this should be done by sharp shooters and they only target the armed shooters on the PDRC side. Police officers on the ground need to be careful with just returning fire in the direction of where they thought they came under attack from, particularly when there are a large number of unarmed protesters in the area. We saw anger on the military side in 2010 after soldiers being shot and reckless use of force with the result being the massive number of deaths with those being killed not being the ones with guns. The authorities need to rethink their plan for how they go about “reclaiming area” and the method they do so (complicated now by the court decision – more on that in a latter post).

* There is also footage, mostly photos, on pro-government social media sites showing pictures of protesters with various weapons. Again, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from journalists on the grounds saying this, but am reluctant to link to photos or videos without knowing the source. The video of the police officer was used by the BBC – the original video on Vimeo by a photojournalist has since been deleted.