BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police detained and removed about 100 anti-government protesters who were camped out near a government ministry in Bangkok on Tuesday in a major effort to push back demonstrators who have occupied key sites around the capital.
Since the protesters starting blocking government offices late last year and major intersections a month ago, police have avoided dispersing demonstrators 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 anti-riot squads, were deployed across the city in an operation the government called “Peace for Bangkok.”
The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and make way for an unelected people’s council to implement reforms they say are needed to end corruption.
Protest leader Rawee Matchamadon said that police rounded up about 100 demonstrators outside the Energy Ministry, north of the city, and took them away in police trucks for questioning at a police base in Bangkok’s northern outskirts on Tuesday. Live footage on Tnews cable television showed no resistance from the protesters during the operation early Tuesday morning.
Still, the moves by police raise chances of violent outbursts. In previous weeks of protests, at least 10 people have been killed and scores injured.
At another operation site near the Golden Mount, a temple on a hill, anti-riot police moved in to round up more anti-government protesters and used bulldozers to clear out a makeshift stage. Gunshots were heard during the operation and a police officer was seen injured on a live television report on FMTV cable channel.
Near the Government House, police officers were asking protesters to leave.
“It is necessary for the police to return peace to the society and unblock the road in order to let the students go to school,” a policeman said through a loudspeaker. “We beg you not to do against the law or defy our operation.”
The protesters had reinforced the numbers around the Government House to keep Yingluck from returning to work there. The caretaker premier has dissolved the parliament and had been forced to work at the temporary office in Bangkok’s suburbs after protesters surrounded her office in central Bangkok demanding her resignation.
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.
On Friday, riot police managed to peacefully clear anti-government protesters from a major boulevard near the Government House. They dismantled a sprawling protest camp in Bangkok’s historic quarter but the protesters returned to occupy the road later on the same day.