Thai police fired tear gas and a water cannon at protesters trying to force their way into Government House to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, after violence in the capital left two dead and dozens wounded.
The bloodshed is the latest in a series of outbreaks of civil strife in the kingdom since royalist generals ousted billionaire tycoon-turned-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, seven years ago.
The mass street rallies, aimed at replacing Yingluck’s government with an unelected “people’s council”, are the biggest since political violence in Bangkok three years ago left dozens dead in a military crackdown.
Protesters were amassing outside Government House on Sunday following a threat by their leader to seize the offices of Yingluck, who was overseeing the situation from an emergency base elsewhere in the city.
Police acted after protesters tried to breach barricades and cut barbed wire protecting the seat of government, which was heavily guarded by security forces including unarmed soldiers, according to an AFP reporter.
Tear gas was also fired near the city’s metropolitan police headquarters several kilometres away where demonstrators were also gathering, television footage showed.
Tensions were high after violence broke out late Saturday in the area around a suburban stadium where tens of thousands of pro-government “Red Shirts” had gathered in support of Yingluck, who has faced weeks of street protests.
The circumstances surrounding the deaths were unclear but the violence came after an anti-government mob attacked Red Shirts arriving to join the rally in Ramkhamhaeng district.
“The confirmed toll is now two dead and 45 injured,” an official at the city’s Erawan emergency centre told AFP, amid reports of sporadic outbreaks of violence near the stadium on Sunday morning.
They were the first deaths since the mostly peaceful demonstrations began a month ago. Both sides blamed each other for attacking their supporters.
The violence prompted Red Shirt leaders to end their rally, which had drawn tens of thousands of mainly rural poor in support of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile but remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand.