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Police, protesters blame the other for violence in Bangkok
Publication Date : 25-11-2012
Protesters and the police blamed each other yesterday for provoking violent clashes near the site of the Pitak Siam anti-government protest.
General Boonlert Kaewprasit, leader of the anti-government rally, vowed to fight to the death to oust the Yingluck government after police fired a second round of tear gas into the crowd of protesters as they converged on the Royal Plaza.
After hearing seven or eight rounds of tear-gas canisters being fired, Boonlert, the Pitak Siam group leader, ran up on the rally stage with his bodyguards and told the protesters that if he could not remove this government, he was willing to die.
He walked from the stage to the First Army Region headquarters near the protest site and made a phone call to the commander about the situation. He was heard saying into the phone, "Will you let them hurt me like this?'' He then called deputy Army chief General Dowpong Rattanasuwan, asking him to protect the people.
General Pathompong Kesornsuk, former chief adviser of the Supreme Command, told Boonlert that Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha was following the situation closely. According to Pathompong, Prayuth commented that the police had rushed to use force against the protesters.
Boonlert also visited two people who had fainted after inhaling tear gas. He told them, "I will make them pay it back. Soldiers are coming,'' he said.
Santi Asoke sect leader Samana Phothirak was among those injured by tear gas.
On the rally stage, speakers urged protesters not to panic and encouraged them to sing soul-stirring songs. More than 10 tear-gas canisters were displayed to the media, protesters and speakers.
Boonlert took to the rally stage again, saying he would hand video clips of clashes between police and protesters to five television stations to show how the protesters had been abused. He said he would release to the public an audio clip on which he claimed members of the red-shirt movement violated the lese majeste law. Boonlert said he had already pledged his life for His Majesty the King, so he was ready to be arrested by police for publicising clips of red-shirt leaders allegedly committing lese majeste offences.
On the stage, Boonlert said police used tear gas against protesters even though he had negotiated with a high-ranking police officer to expand the protest site on to Rajdamnoen Road to accommodate more protesters. He called on the military to come to the protesters' rescue if they believe the police over-reacted or violated the people's rights.
Royal Thai Police spokesman Pol Maj-General Piya Uthayo defended the police's use of tear gas, saying about 500 anti-government protesters tried to destroy a police road blockade erected to keep protesters from entering off-limits zones on Rajdamnoen Road at the Misakawan intersection and Makhawan Rangsan Bridge. He said police warned the protesters not to destroy the barbed-wire blockade, but they cut the wire and approached the police line.
Piya said the protesters also hit police with flag poles and threw water bottles at officials before driving six-wheel trucks into the police line. Five police officers were injured, two of them seriously, he said.
It was at this point, Piya said, that police decided to use tear gas on the protesters. He insisted that the police followed international practices and that the protesters instigated the violence with the intention of violating the provisions of the Internal Security Act (ISA) 2008, which has been enforced in three districts of Bangkok to control the protest.
He said about 100 protesters were detained and 30 bullets and knives were found on them.
Representatives from the Armed Forces met with Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung and National Police chief Pol General Adul Saengsingkaew in the morning to discuss security arrangements before the clashes took place.
Meanwhile, Pol Maj-General Adul Narongsak, spokesman of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, rejected reports that the police had used expired tear gas. He said police suspected that an ill-intentioned party had hurled the old tear-gas canisters, which were found to have labels indicating they must be used before April 2012. He insisted that police did not use the expired tear gas, and nor could they have belonged to the protesters because everyone had been searched by police.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut condemned the government for using the ISA to prevent protesters from joining the rally. He said the government had no right to use such a harsh law against a peaceful protest.
He dismissed as unreasonable the government's use of tear gas on grounds that protesters were armed with guns and knives.
He believed more people would pour into the protest site and expected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would declare a state of emergency. He suspected the PM might try to exploit the situation by refusing to attend the upcoming censure debate.
Campaign for Popular Democracy secretary-general Suriyan Thongnu-iad said the police's use of tear gas against protesters was an over-reaction and was a ploy by the government to provoke clashes.
"The police still have their old attitude of seeing protesters as their enemy, and tried to disperse the protest. It was an act of desperation to serve the government," he said.