BANGKOK : A Thai court ordered the government Wednesday not to use force against peaceful protests, as demonstrators vowed to intensify efforts to unseat the premier a day after street clashes left five dead and dozens wounded.
The opposition movement has staged more than three months of mass street rallies demanding Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s resignation, besieging major state buildings.
The backdrop to the unrest is a nearly decade-long political rift between opponents and supporters of Yingluck’s brother, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, that has unleashed a series of rival street protests. This week’s spike in violence has punctured hopes of an easing of a months-long political standoff in which 16 people have been killed on both sides and hundreds injured in gunfire and grenade blasts. Several thousand protesters Wednesday surrounded Yingluck’s crisis headquarters in a Bangkok suburb where she has held meetings in recent weeks.
But the premier was not believed to be inside at the time and the demonstrators later retreated after officials at the defence ministry complex agreed to hold talks with protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.
The firebrand senior opposition figure leading the rallies called for a renewed push targeting Yingluck, even suggesting she might be driven out of the country.
“We will hound her all day long until she cannot live here,” Suthep told a cheering crowd. “Retaliation against Yingluck must intensify.”
The ruling by the Civil Court restricting the use of force could complicate Yingluck’s handling of the rallies, although her government had already pledged to avoid using violence against the demonstrators.
On Tuesday serious clashes broke out after riot police tried to clear rally sites in the capital’s historic district.
Chaotic scenes ensued as explosions and gunfire shook an area of the city near the Golden Mount temple and other tourist attractions.
A policeman was shot dead and four civilians were killed, while more than 60 were injured. Police said 24 officers were among those hurt.
The protesters have accused the security forces of responsibility for the deaths but the authorities insist they only used rubber bullets. They blamed the killings on armed instigators.
Dramatic television footage showed one policeman desperately trying to kick away a grenade thrown towards a group of police hiding behind shields, just moments before it exploded and badly injured his foot.
- Demands for reform -
The protesters are demanding Yingluck quit to allow an unelected prime minister to take office to introduce vaguely-defined reforms such as an end to corruption and alleged misuse of public funds to buy political influence.
In a new twist, the National Anti-Corruption Commission said Tuesday it was pressing charges against Yingluck for neglect of duty in connection with a controversial rice subsidy scheme. If found guilty she could be removed from office.
More than seven years after royalist generals ousted Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in a bloodless coup, the kingdom appears more politically divided than ever.
The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician fled overseas in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction, but his critics accuse him of pulling the strings of power from self-exile.
Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election for more than a decade, and Yingluck is counting on her family’s traditionally strong support in the northern half of the kingdom to return her to power after a general election was held on February 2.
The opposition boycotted the polls and the results are not expected to be known until elections are held in constituencies where voting was disrupted by protesters.
The Election Commission said Wednesday that it would bring forward voting — previously scheduled for April — in these constituencies. Elections will now be held in five of the affected provinces on March 2.