Thailand’s caretaker government has warned both sides in the political crisis to avoid demonstrations, amid fears that the stand-off could quickly turn violent and even result in a civil war.
In an announcement broadcast on television, the government body responsible for overseeing security said there was concern that demands by protesters that the acting Prime Minister stand down could trigger clashes and that security was therefore being increased.
“We would like to warn all Thais to stay away from the protest sites as we have to tighten our security in a bid to avert a crisis,” said Tharit Pengdit, chief of the Department of Special Investigation, according to Reuters. “We are asking people to stay away from the protesters and to avoid the protest sites for their own safety.”
At the weekend rival groups held demonstrations at sites just a few miles from each other. So far, the stand-off has been largely peaceful.
At the anti-government protest, leaders demanded that the acting Prime Minister stand down by this evening and threatened that if he did not, the demonstrators would force him out.
Meanwhile, at a demonstration of so-called Red Shirts, which have been supportive of Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai-led government, leaders said they were not backing down while there remained a threat to the administration.
The protests followed the ousting last week of Ms Yingluck, Thailand’s first woman prime minister and a sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from power by a military coup in 2006.
While the judicial body that forced out Ms Yingluck and nine of her ministers said they must stand down immediately, it also said an interim government could remain in place until elections scheduled for July.
But the anti-government protesters – headed by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former MP and Deputy Prime Minister who faces murder charges over a 2010 crackdown against the Red Shirts – have made clear that they have no interest in participating in a fresh election until significant reforms are in place.
The anti-government protesters, known as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), claim the current political system is corrupt and want the upper house of the parliament to appoint a new prime minister while reforms are carried out.
According to the transcript of a speech to his supporters posted on social media, Mr Suthep told his followers: “We must remain mindful that we are not fighting against fellow Thais who think differently from us, but from the enemy who has betrayed this land.”
Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer for the exiled Mr Thaksin, said the situation in Bangkok was becoming increasingly dangerous and blamed Mr Suthep for what had happened. He claimed the opposition Democrat party, which had sided with the PDRC during some of the months of protests, had lost its legitimacy.
“Bangkok is pretty scary. It’s lawless,” he said, speaking from Thailand’s capital.
The stand-off is just the latest development in months of turmoil between supporters of Mr Thaksin and those who believe he is corrupt and that neither he nor his sister should have any role in Thai politics. Given that many of Mr Thaksin’s supporters live in the north and north-east of Thailand, there has been speculation that the country could even split.
The government and its supporters said the anti-government protesters had given up on electoral democracy because they kept losing elections and were now resorting to non-democratic means. The PDRC leadership says that elections are unfair and that there is no point contesting them until the system has been reformed.
The anti-government protesters have ratcheted up their efforts to force out the acting Prime Minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, laying siege to television stations, surrounding state offices and demanding that members of the upper house help them install a non-elected premier.