In a day of tangled developments in Thailand's long-running
political crisis, the country's anti-corruption body announced it
was filing charges against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
relating to a rice subsidy scheme that has fuelled middle-class
opposition to her government.
The troubled rice scheme, already near collapse, suffered another
blow when the Government Savings Bank (GSB) said it was scrapping a
loan to a state farm bank that could have been used to prop the
scheme up in the face of a revolt by depositors.
The clashes were some of most intense between protesters and
security forces since the campaign to unseat Yingluck began in
November, and raised the prospect that the army might feel compelled
to intervene if the bloodshed worsens.
The protests are the latest installment of an eight-year political
battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist
establishment against the poorer, mostly rural supporters of
Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin
Reuters witnesses heard gunfire and saw police firing weapons in the
Phan Fa Bridge area in the old quarter of the city. Police said they
had come under fire from a sniper on a rooftop and M-79 grenades
were also fired.
The policeman was killed by a gunshot and several were wounded by a
grenade, security officials said.
The Erawan Medical Center, which monitors hospitals, said on its
website that three protesters had also been killed by gunfire. The
center said 64 people had been wounded. It did not provide a
breakdown of how many of the wounded were police and how many were
Security officials said earlier that 15,000 officers were involved
in the operation, "Peace for Bangkok Mission", to reclaim protest
sites around central Bangkok's Government House and other government
offices in the north of the capital.
Yingluck has been forced to abandon her offices in Government House
by the protesters, led by a former deputy premier, Suthep
Thaugsuban, who have also blocked major intersections since
Police said they had arrested 183 people at two protest sites at the
Energy Ministry, which had been cleared of protesters, and Phan Fa
Bridge, and were detaining them for violating a state of emergency
declared last month.
Trouble started with clouds of teargas near Government House and
soon police were crouching behind riot shields as officers clashed
with protesters. It was not clear who had fired the teargas and the
authorities blamed protesters.
By the afternoon, police had largely withdrawn from protest sites
and the streets were quiet. National Security Council Chief Paradorn
Pattanathabutr said top officials were meeting to decide whether to
continue the operation on Wednesday.
There has been no move against the biggest protest sites in the
city's commercial and shopping districts.
ARMY STAYS ALOOF
The protesters are trying to oust Yingluck, whom they view as a
proxy for her elder brother Thaksin, a former telecoms
tycoon-turned-premier, toppled by the army in a 2006 coup.
The military has remained aloof from the latest crisis, but has a
long history of intervening in politics, generally in support of the
Bangkok establishment that includes the top brass, royal advisers
and old-money families.
"If enough people are killed then the arch-royalist grouping might
pressure Yingluck to retreat from her pro-active approach towards
Suthep," said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute
for South East Asian Studies in Chiang Mai.
"I don't think the military would carry out a coup, but they would
ask Yingluck to back off from Suthep."
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Among the protesters' grievances is the rice subsidy scheme, a
populist move to pay farmers an above-market price that has proved
hugely expensive and run into funding problems.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission announced an investigation
last month, and on Tuesday said it was summoning Yingluck to hear
charges against her on February 27.
"Although she knew that many people had warned about corruption in
the scheme, she still continued with it. That shows her intention to
cause losses to the government so we have unanimously agreed to
charge her," Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said in a
The GSB had said on Sunday it had lent 5 billion baht ($155 million)
to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, which
manages the rice program and has all but run out of money to pay
Some GSB depositors, either worried that the loan could destabilize
the bank or unwilling to see their money used to help the
government, have been taking out their cash. On Monday, 30 billion
baht ($930 million) was withdrawn.
In a response to the withdrawals, Thaksin's son, Panthongtae
Shinawatra, posted a picture on Facebook showing he had deposited
just over 11 million baht in a GSB account.
The protests have taken a toll on the economy and data published on
Monday showed growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2013.
The baht currency weakened after Tuesday's violence.
Yingluck called a snap election in December and has since led a
caretaker administration with only limited powers.
The main opposition party boycotted the February 2 election and
protesters disrupted it in parts of Bangkok and the south, the
powerbase of the opposition. It may be many months before there is a
quorum in parliament to elect a new prime minister.
Demonstrators accuse Thaksin of nepotism and corruption and say he
used taxpayers' money for populist subsidies and easy loans that
have bought him the loyalty of millions in the populous north and
They want to suspend what they say is a fragile democracy under
Thaksin's control and eradicate his influence by altering electoral
The government, haunted by memories of a bloody 2010 crackdown by a
previous administration that killed dozens of pro-Thaksin "red
shirt" activists, has until now largely tried to avoid
But Tuesday's fatalities brought to 15 the number of people killed
in sporadic violence between protesters, security forces and
government supporters since the demonstrations began. Hundreds have
Bluesky TV, the protest movement's television channel, had earlier
shown protest leader Suthep addressing police lines near Government
"We are not fighting to get power for ourselves," Suthep said. "The
reforms we will set in motion will benefit your children and
grandchildren, too. The only enemy of the people is the Thaksin
($1 = 32.2700 baht)
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat, Amy Sawitta
Lefevre, Prapan Chankaew, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Orathai Sriring and
Pairat Temphairojana; writing by Alex Richardson; editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)
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