BANGKOK (AP) — Clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in Bangkok left three people dead and 57 others injured Tuesday as riot police attempted to clear out protest camps around the Thai capital.
Multiple gunshots were heard midday at a spot near the prime minister’s office where riot police had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage, but it wasn’t clear who was firing.
Erawan emergency medical services said a 52-year-old male civilian was killed by a head wound and a police officer died from a chest wound. It also said another man died, but didn’t have further details. Nearly 60 others were injured in the incident.
Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit said at a televised press 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 Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s resignation. 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.”
Earlier Tuesday, 144 protesters gathered 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, Tharit said.
The operations came a day before the Civil Court hands down a ruling on the caretaker 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 force to dismantle the special security command center it had set up to enforce the emergency measures.
The protesters want Yingluck to step aside for an unelected people’s council to implement reforms they say are needed to end corruption.
Since the protests began in November, at least 12 people have been killed and scores injured.
Caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt told The Associated Press the protesters hijacked two of the city’s public buses and used them to block a rally site at the Interior Ministry near the Grand Palace.
Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006 when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Since then, his supporters and opponents have vied for power, sometimes violently.