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Rioting leaves at least 2 dead in Thailand

'Police used violence against the people,' one witness says after an anti-government protest erupts.

October 08, 2008|Charles McDermid | Special to The Times

BANGKOK, THAILAND — Violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters left at least two people dead Tuesday and hundreds injured as tear gas, gunshots and Molotov cocktails filled central Bangkok, officials and witnesses said.

A crackdown on the People's Alliance for Democracy movement erupted into a day of rioting at Thailand's besieged government complex.

"I came to protest, and then the police used violence against the people. I saw my uncle and aunt hit with tear gas. It will only get worse and worse," student Jakkapun Kaewsangthong, 21, said as tear gas canisters exploded outside parliament.

"The world should know the current government has no right to govern this country anymore -- they should resign or retire," Kaewsangthong said. "We will stay as long as the government stays in power."

A 20-year-old woman who had been at the protest died at the Narenthorn Center in critical condition with multiple injuries, officials at the emergency hospital said.

A second person died later when a car exploded, apparently because of a bomb, police officials said.

The mayhem began early Tuesday when police fired tear gas to clear a path through about 5,000 protesters who had blockaded the Thai parliament, where new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, brother-in-law of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was scheduled to make an official policy address.

After the prime minister hurried through his address and climbed over a back fence to evade the angry mob, he and his daughter fled to nearby Vimanmek mansion, a local newspaper reported.

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New government

The Thai Constitution specifies that a new government has no power until it issues its policies, required within 15 days of being sworn in.

Somchai's predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, was ousted last month after a court ruled that he had violated the constitution by accepting payment for appearing on a television cooking show. Both Samak and Somchai, who was named prime minister last month, have been labeled by some as puppets of Thaksin, who has been charged with corruption and is seeking refugee status in Britain.

After Somchai made his speech and left, lawmakers were locked inside the parliament building as utility workers sympathetic to the opposition cut the water and electricity and protesters barricaded the front gates. Police eventually cleared an escape route by firing more tear gas, inciting further clashes.

A police sergeant was rushed to a hospital after being stabbed with a metal pole, according to local news reports. Three other officers were reportedly injured in front of the parliament.

The alliance has denied using violence.

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Official resigns

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a former prime minister who is the government's top negotiator with the alliance, stepped down and accepted responsibility for the turmoil. He told reporters that police had failed to heed his advice to use restraint.

Later, alliance leader Suriyasai Katasila urged the thousands of protesters still encamped outside Government House, the prime minister's office, to give Chavalit credit for "choosing the people's side rather than holding on to power."

Street fighting continued well into the night as hundreds of police officers set up a razor-wire roadblock outside their Bangkok headquarters and lobbed tear gas at protesters.

Queen Sirikit donated funds to help cover the expenses of the injured.

Late in the day, thousands of alliance supporters were said to be on their way to Bangkok, the capital, and the movement's leaders again called for mass strikes by sympathetic labor unions.

"I have come here many times, but I saw police hurt many people today," said 31-year-old Wichai Tidkrathok, a computer programmer in Bangkok. "I'm not scared of bad guys. I am scared about our country."

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