Police fend off mass protests in Bangkok

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters try to seize key sites in the Thai capital

Scenes of violence rippled through the streets of Bangkok on Sunday as police used tear gas and water cannon to battle tens of thousands of anti-government protesters who were trying to seize key sites in the Thai capital.

Residents of the capital were urged by officials to stay inside their homes after 10pm, as the scale of the final push to topple the government, as promised by the protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, became clear – authorities said that four people have been killed since Saturday and dozens injured. Mr Thaugsuban met the Prime Minister in front of military chiefs at a secret location yesterday evening and gave her two days to “return power to the people”, local media reported.

He also called for a nationwide strike of government and state enterprise workers today and urged for a suspension of the democratic system and for a non-elected “people’s council” made up of “good men” to run the country.

As the protesters tried to storm Government House yesterday, gangs of masked men – seemingly intent on provoking violence – threw stones and water bottles at police lines. Some carried shields they had seized from riot police and a stolen police van was parked outside one entrance.

The protesters cut razor wire and tried to pull down concrete barricades erected by the police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon but in general obeyed orders to show restraint and avoid violence.

One protester, Pom Chaiyanuwone, a 50-year-old housewife, echoed Mr Thaugsuban’s call for elections to be suspended, adding this would allow the country’s leaders “to educate the people to know real democracy”.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra was keeping a low profile yesterday, although her deputy, Pracha Promnok, said last night that the government had the situation under control. Ms Shinwatra’s opponents accuse her government of corruption and say she is a puppet of her brother, Thaksin, who was deposed as premier in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power.

The current round of protests was sparked last month when the government tried to pass an amnesty bill that would have pardoned thousands of people convicted of politically related crimes. This would have paved the way for the return of Mr Shinwatra.