Newspaper article International New York Times

Thai Police Take Tougher Action to Defend Government Sites

Newspaper article International New York Times

Thai Police Take Tougher Action to Defend Government Sites

Article excerpt

After a week of using soft-gloved tactics against antigovernment demonstrators, the Thai police aggressively stepped up their defense of government buildings in Bangkok on Monday.

After a week of using soft-gloved tactics against antigovernment demonstrators, the Thai police aggressively stepped up their defense of government buildings in Bangkok on Monday, firing a hail of rubber bullets and tear gas and using water cannons.

Despite the police pressuring the thousands of protesters to go home as Thailand enters its peak tourism season, the main demonstration leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, dug in his heels, prolonging the grinding standoff, the nation's deepest civil unrest in three years.

"We have to fight from every angle, fight until we win," a weary- looking Mr. Suthep told thousands of supporters late Monday. A criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Suthep on charges of rebellion, which is punishable by death or life in prison.

Most of the Bangkok area, which has a population of about 10 million, remained calm Monday, and a vast majority of businesses here in the capital were open for most of the day, including shopping malls that had shut their doors as a precaution on Sunday.

But in areas targeted by protesters -- particularly those around the prime minister's office and the metropolitan police headquarters -- clashes were intense.

Bloodied protesters, many of whom threw stones at police officers, were carried away from the those areas with injuries from rubber bullets apparently fired by the police. Two men had bullet wounds, doctors at a Bangkok hospital said. By late evening, as two trucks burned near the prime minister's office, the government said that 98 people had been injured on Monday.

Amid the chaos, a deadline appeared to loom: Analysts said the protests could wind down very fast as the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej approached. The monarch, who turns 86 on Thursday, is revered.

Protesters have set the ambitious -- and, according to many analysts, unachievable -- goal of ridding the country of the Shinawatras, the country's most influential political family.

Led by Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as prime minister in a military coup in 2006 and now lives in exile, the family has spearheaded one of the most popular political movements in modern Thai history, winning every national election since 2001. Mr. Thaksin fled overseas in 2008, just before being convicted of abuse of power in a highly politicized trial.

The current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Mr. Thaksin's sister, sounded both firm and conciliatory on Monday.

"The government is leaving open every option for discussion," Ms. Yingluck said. But she rejected protesters' demands for a "people's council" of unelected representatives to replace the country's parliamentary democracy. …

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