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Riot police fail to reclaim two Bangkok protest sites

Publication Date : 15-02-2014


Thai security forces were on Friday rebuffed as they tried to clear protesters from two anti-government rally sites in Bangkok but ended up declaring the relatively peaceful operation a success.

A few thousand policemen in full riot gear marched into a sprawling encampment surrounding Government House - where the Prime Minister's Office is located - in the early morning, pulling down tents and hauling away rubber tyres and sandbags that had transformed the area into a fortress over the past few weeks.

A search of the area uncovered some firearms and homemade bombs but police encountered little initial resistance as most of the protesters had earlier marched to another part of Bangkok.

Metropolitan police spokesman Adul Narongsak said the move had been negotiated with some protest leaders beforehand, to allow civil servants to enter Government House to work. Just before midday however, about 100 demonstrators massed at a nearby bridge and began taunting police.

An explosion believed to have come from a firecracker injured two people, prompting the police to retreat from the area they had previously reclaimed.

Over at the Government Complex, which houses several government agencies, on the outskirts of Bangkok, police also reportedly retreated after a tense stand-off. A National Security Council representative told The Straits Times: "We are quite happy with the result" as few people were injured.

At press time, police appeared to have made no major inroads and it was still not possible for Government House to function normally. The representative said: "It might not be successful today but we have to keep trying."

The protesters, who began agitating against the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in October, have so far been unable to dislodge her despite blockading major intersections in Bangkok and locking civil servants out of government buildings.

Yingluck reportedly works out of the office of the Permanent Secretary of Defence in the outskirts of Bangkok, while other Cabinet members work from undisclosed locations.

Police have avoided confrontation where possible in order to avoid an outbreak of violence that would give Thailand's all-powerful military an excuse to intervene. Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra - who is said to pull the strings of government from abroad - helmed Thailand until 2006, when he was toppled in a military coup.

Despite Bangkok and its surroundings being under a state of emergency since last month - and arrest warrants having been issued for core protesters - key protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has not been arrested. The former opposition Democrat lawmaker helms the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee, which wants  Yingluck to step down.

In the meantime, Yingluck and her Puea Thai party are facing an extended political limbo because Thailand's February 2 election was disrupted by protesters and a polling rerun is due only on April 27. With its government having limited powers to commit to major projects, Thailand's growth outlook has dimmed.

The conflict has left 10 dead and more than 600 injured since November. Regular blasts or shootings at rally sites continue to keep the capital on edge. The number of demonstrators have whittled down from more than 150,000 in December to just about 5,000 on Thursday, according to police estimates.

Meanwhile, Yingluck is facing an impeachment probe over the country's troubled rice mortgage scheme. The state owes rice farmers about 130 billion baht (US$4 billion) in overdue payments for their rice. On Thursday, 50 farmers filed a suit against the government for compensation.


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