The turmoil comes as a government loyal to ousted former Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra squares off with opponents backed by the
royalist establishment over who should be prime minister in the
latest phase of nearly a decade of rivalry.
Anti-government protesters broke into the grounds of an air force
compound where acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan
was meeting the Election Commission to fix a date for new polls,
which had been tentatively set for July 20.
Commission member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn later told Reuters that
date now looked improbable. "We may have to push back the polls," he
The government sees a general election as the best way out of a
crisis that threatens to tip Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy
into recession and has even raised fears of civil war.
Its enemies know the ruling party would be highly likely to win a
poll and want electoral changes aimed at ending the influence of
former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin before another vote is
The renewed tension on the streets raises the prospect that the
military - which has stayed out of the crisis so far - could
intervene, with the army chief reiterating that an escalation in
violence could force it to step in to avoid further bloodshed.
Hundreds of protesters converged outside an air force school in
north Bangkok after word spread that Niwatthamrong was meeting
election officials there. They had put off talks at another venue
the previous day because of security fears.
"We are here to tell Niwatthamrong that there is no point standing
in our way," Chumpol Jumsai, a leader of the anti-government
protesters, told the crowd from on top of a truck shortly before
hundreds of protesters evaded police and streamed through a side
entrance into the compound.
Somchai and other commission members met protest leader Suthep
Thaugsuban to discuss whether demonstrators would accept a new poll,
but failed to reach an agreement.
"Even if you set a timeframe of six months or two years (for
reforms), I don't believe you can bring about change quickly,"
Somchai told Suthep.
"Will you allow an election to happen in the not-too-distant
future?" he asked Suthep, who stuck to his position and emphasized
the need for an overhaul of the electoral system.
Hours earlier, a small group of men armed with guns and grenades
attacked anti-government protesters near Democracy Monument in
Bangkok's old quarter, killing two people on the spot, with a third
dying later of his wounds. More than 20 people were injured, police
Paradorn Pattanathabutr, a security adviser to the prime minister,
said he suspected the attack was a reaction to pressure by the
anti-government side to force the Senate to appoint a new prime
It was the most serious incident since five people were killed and
dozens wounded in clashes on February 18, when police made their
most determined effort to clear the demonstrators.
Twenty eight people have been killed and hundreds injured since the
protests began in November.
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The army has a long record of intervening in politics but military
chiefs have stayed aloof from this crisis, insisting that
politicians must sort out the dispute.
However, more violence
would raise the possibility of the military feeling compelled to
"The army may have to use troops to calm the situation down if any
group harms people," army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
Thaksin won huge support among the rural and urban poor but made
enemies of the Bangkok-based elite who saw him as corrupt and
authoritarian, and accused him of being disrespectful to the
Thaksin denied that, but he was deposed in a 2006 coup and has lived
abroad since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft charges that he
says were politically motivated.
Nevertheless, he has exerted influence through his loyalists
including his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led a pro-Thaksin
party to a resounding election victory in 2011.
Yingluck lost her job as prime minister last week when the
Constitutional Court ruled she had abused her power, but her
caretaker government remains in office.
The anti-government protesters say Thaksin wins elections through
money politics and they want the Senate to depose the remnants of
Yingluck's caretaker government through the appointment of a
"neutral" interim prime minister.
"If, by Friday ... the Senate fails to come up with a solution, then
the people may have to seize power and set up a people's assembly on
their own," Suthep, a former deputy prime minister in a
pro-establishment government, told supporters late on Wednesday.
The Shinawatras' "red shirt" supporters, who are holding a sit-in
protest on Bangkok's western outskirts, have warned of violence if
the caretaker government is ousted.
"Suthep has said he will seize power for the people. Well, if he
seizes power, then we will take it back," Natthawut Saikua, a leader
of the pro-government activists, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Aukkarapon
Niyomyat; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alex Richardson and
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