Thailand police fend off mass protests in Bangkok

The BBC's Jonathan Head: "We've had volleys of tear gas. We've had water cannons coming this way as well"

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Police in Thailand have fended off protesters who descended on key sites in Bangkok trying to unseat the government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Protesters entered TV stations and Ms Yingluck was forced to evacuate a police complex.

However, tear gas and water cannon halted protesters at Government House.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban later met Ms Yingluck and gave her an ultimatum of two days to "return power to the people".

He did not immediately specify what action would follow if the ultimatum were not heeded.

"There was no negotiation and no compromise," Mr Suthep was quoted as saying.

Analysis

They marched up towards the prime minister's office complex in a noisy, colourful caravan, Thai flags fluttering in their thousands.

Protest columns had started moving out of their main camp-site in Bangkok's old city in the morning in the direction of several buildings, a final push, said their leaders, to bring down the government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

There was a reality check, though, when they reached the impressive concrete and razor-wire barricades put up by the police across all roads leading to the PM's building. There was no way through.

From behind the wire the police issued warnings on loudspeakers. Today,' they said, you will not be allowed to pass. Move back. To make their point they fired tear gas, and showered the crowd with stinging pepper spray.

Most of them did retreat. There are middle-class families in this movement who earnestly dream of overthrowing what they say is Thailand's flawed democracy. But despite the do-it-yourself medics rushing around squirting saline water into their eyes, they could not withstand the clouds of gas.

The police, who conspicuously failed to stop protesters occupying ministry buildings all week, proved up to the job of resisting this attempt at a 'people's revolt'.

"I told Yingluck that this is the only and last time I see her until power is handed over to the people.

"There will be no bargaining and it must be finished in two days."

Sunday is the eighth day of protests aimed at unseating Ms Yingluck. Four people have died and dozens have been injured in the unrest.

The protesters had declared Sunday the decisive "V-Day" of what they termed a "people's coup".

They say Ms Yingluck's administration is controlled by her brother, exiled ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, and they want to replace it with a "People's Council".

Some 30,000 protesters had gathered earlier at about eight sites, police said, including Government House, television stations and the police headquarters.

Protesters did enter several TV stations to ensure a message from Mr Suthep was aired. It was broadcast by almost all of Thailand's channels.

He called a general strike for government employees for Monday.

He also urged the government to "think of the country, stop blaming and hurting the people, and return the power to the people".

Mr Suthep said protesters had seized a dozen government buildings, but national security chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters that none had been taken over.

"They haven't seized a single place," he said.

Protesters in Bangkok, 1 Dec The worst violence on Sunday was around Government House
Protesters in Bangkok, 1 Dec Police fired tear gas, with many of the protesters throwing the canisters back
Protesters in Bangkok, 1 Dec Both protesters and security forces felt the effects of the tear gas

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says protesters had approached their targets in cheering, colourful columns, but could not get past the clouds of gas and concrete barricades.

Ms Yingluck had intended to give media interviews on Sunday at a Bangkok police complex but was forced to evacuate when protesters tried to break in.

Thailand's troubles

  • Sept 2006: Army overthrows government of Thaksin Shinawatra, rewrites constitution
  • Dec 2007: Pro-Thaksin People Power Party wins most votes in election
  • Aug 2008: Mr Thaksin flees into self-imposed exile before end of corruption trial
  • Dec 2008: Mass yellow-shirt protests paralyse Bangkok; Constitutional Court bans People Power Party; Abhisit Vejjajiva comes to power
  • Mar-May 2010: Thousands of pro-Thaksin red shirts occupy parts of Bangkok; eventually cleared by army; dozens killed
  • July 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra leads Pheu Thai party to general election win
  • Nov 2013: Anti-government protesters begin street demonstrations

A police spokesman, Piya Utayo, said security forces would be deployed to take back "government property" occupied by protesters in the past week.

However, many protesters remain on the streets and the weekend's violence marks a sharp escalation of the unrest.

Deputy PM Pracha Promnok urged people in the capital to stay indoors from 22:00 to 05:00 local time (15:00-22:00 GMT) "so they will not become victims of provocateurs".

Election ruled out

The worst violence occurred when students attacked vehicles bringing pro-government activists to a Bangkok stadium on Saturday.

Early on Sunday, pro-government "red shirt" leaders said they were ending their mass rally at the stadium to allow security forces to police rival demonstrations.

Up until Saturday the protests had been largely peaceful, with Ms Yingluck saying the government would only use minimum force.

Soldiers were then called in to help the riot police.

Our correspondent says military commanders have been reluctant to get involved but agreed to deploy the troops on condition they would carry no weapons and would stand behind riot police ringing the main government offices.

There is a high risk of greater violence if more supporters of Ms Yingluck - whose party enjoys strong backing outside Bangkok - try to come to the capital, our correspondent adds.

On Friday Ms Yingluck ruled out early elections, telling the BBC that the country was not calm enough for polls. She repeated her call for negotiations to resolve the crisis.

Thailand is facing its largest protests since 2010, when thousands of red-shirt Thaksin supporters occupied key parts of the capital. More than 90 people, mostly civilian protesters, died over the course of the two-month sit-in.

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