A monk wearing a face mask joins protesters in Bangkok on Monday. (AFP)
Bangkok, Dec. 2 (Reuters): Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said today she would “open every door” to find a peaceful solution to a political crisis gripping Bangkok as police used rubber bullets against protesters seeking to topple her government.
According to a hospital official, two persons protesting against the government were shot and wounded in Bangkok today. “We confirm that we received two protesters from the clashes today who were wounded by live bullets. One suffered a chest wound, the other a wound to his right leg,” said the hospital’s director, Surasak Lila-udomlipi. “Altogether we received seven injured people,” he added.
Earlier, Yingluck told a news conference that police would not use force, but the national security chief later said rubber bullets were being used as protesters threatened to advance on Yingluck’s office, the focal point of the demonstrations since the weekend.
The violence is the latest twist in a conflict pitting Bangkok’s middle class and royalist elite against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former Prime Minister who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.
The number of protesters was well down on the 30,000 dispersed around various sites yesterday, but hard-core elements had broken through concrete barriers set up around Government House, Yingluck’s office in the heart of Bangkok. After using round upon round of tear gas to repel them yesterday, police stepped up their response today.
“We are alternating between the use of water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Rubber bullets are being used in one area only and that is the bridge near Government House,” Paradorn Pattanathabutr, the head of the National Security Council, told Reuters.
A Reuters reporter saw a youth in his early 20s fire at least three shots from a pistol in the direction of police protecting Government House. Protesters also threw dozens of Molotov cocktails.
Tear gas was also used against protesters trying to tear down barriers at the Bangkok metropolitan police headquarters. However, they pulled back in the late afternoon, a Reuters reporter said, at around the same time the protest movement said leader Suthep Thaugsuban would make an announcement.
Suthep met Yingluck late yesterday but insisted there had been no negotiations to end the worst political crisis since bloody unrest in 2010.
He said the meeting was arranged by the military, a powerful institution in Thailand that has taken sides against Thaksin-allied governments in the past and put down a pro-Thaksin movement in 2010, when more than 90 people were killed.
The government at the time — in which Suthep was a deputy Prime Minister — gave the military powers under an emergency decree to clear pro-Thaksin “red shirts” from central Bangkok. This time the army has carefully tried not to get involved, only reluctantly providing unarmed back-up for police.
“The military has positioned itself as neutral and it wants to see a peaceful way out,” Yingluck told the news conference.
Three persons were shot dead at the weekend, including two government supporters who had been at a rally to the east of Bangkok and a student from a nearby university. The remains of a fourth person have been found in a burnt-out bus near there, police said. Suthep, 64, who resigned as a Democrat lawmaker to lead the protests, wants a vaguely defined “people’s council” to replace Yingluck’s government.