BANGKOK – A Bangkok policeman has been shot point blank in the head and 58 people injured today as police raided an opposition rally site to reclaim areas taken over by demonstrators lead by Suthep Thaugsuban. Violence erupted as the police tried to take back the protest site at Phan Fah Bridge hours after arresting 100 protesters in front of state-owned oil and gas company PTT Plc for violating a state of emergency declared in January.
Several police officers were involved the operation called the “Peace for Bangkok Mission”. The Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CPMO) said it plans to retake Government House, Prime Minister’s office, as the first target of its operation to reclaim five areas occupied by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
The national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew confirmed the officer shot in the head had died, saying he had succumbed to his injuries on the way to hospital. Six policemen and a foreign journalist were also among the injured. Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, the CMPO director, said Prime Minister Yingluck had instructed him not to resort to violence.
The protesters backed by the main opposition Democrat Party have been rallying in Bangkok since November to try to oust Yingluck, whom they view as a proxy for her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier who was toppled in a military coup in 2006. They want the government to hand over power to an unelected people’s council to implement reforms they say are needed to end corruption.
Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary-general of the Internal Security Operations Command, said negotiations would be the main medium to reclaim Government House. He admitted that Yingluck’s plan to return to Government House had to be delayed. Demonstrators poured cement into the barrier moulds at the gates of the compound yesterday.
Eleven people have died and hundreds of others injured in political violence linked to the latest round of anti-government rallies. Demonstrators have blocked major intersections and entrances to government offices.
The head of Thailand’s National Security Council, Paradorn Pattanathabutr, insisted the police were armed only with batons and riot shields, did not use rubber bullets, and accused protesters of using tear gas.
United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) co-leader Jatuporn Prompan has called on Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) director Chalerm Yubamrung to arrest protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, arguing that it is the only way to end prolonged anti-government rallies.
According to Mr Jatuporn, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) is stuck because its proposals – be it a people’s revolution, the appointment of neutral prime minister or the creation of a people’s council – are not backed by the constitution and therefore impossible to achieve.
Mr Suthep is trying to prolong the protests, albeit with a smaller number of protesters, in the hope that an independent organisation will come out and take action against the government.
The only way of ending the protest situation is for Mr Chalerm, as CMPO head, to apprehend Mr Suthep, Mr Jatuporn said.