Thai police fire tear gas in clash with hundreds of protesters


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The Independent Online

Thai police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters who pushed through barriers and clashed with security forces today as thousands gathered seeking to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government.

The royalist Pitak Siam group, led by retired military general Boonlert Kaewprasit, accuses Yingluck's government of corruption and being a puppet of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother.

It has attracted the support of yellow-shirted members of the People's Alliance for Democracy who helped destabilize and topple governments led or backed by Thaksin in 2006 and 2008.

Thaksin remains a deeply divisive figure in Thailand. He was ousted in a 2006 military-backed coup and fled the country in 2008 shortly before being found guilty of abuse of power.

"If I can't overthrow this government, I am prepared to die," Boonlert told supporters in Thai. In English, he said: "The world will see this corrupted and cruel government. The world can see the government under a puppet."

At least seven police were wounded and up to 132 protesters arrested in a clash near the U.N. Asia-Pacific headquarters, a stone's throw away from the main rally site.

Authorities have deployed 17,000 police at the rally site and the government has invoked the Internal Security Act allowing police to detain protesters and carry out security checks and set up roadblocks.

Police say they have seized various weapons, including knives and bullets, from among the 9,000 gathered at the site.

"We used tear gas because protesters were blocking police and did not comply with the security measures we put in place," police spokesman Piya Uthaya told a local TV station.

Thailand has seen frequent bloody street protests in recent years including a rally that lasted more than two months by supporters of the present government in 2010. Those protests sparked a military crackdown that left at least 91 people dead and more than 1,700 injured.

"At this stage, the government is more a threat to itself. If it overreacts using an army of policemen that's going to enrage demonstrators and things could get out of control," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

"The use of tear gas is a bad omen and conjures images of the 2008 anti-government protesters who forced their way into government house and parliament."

The protest highlights tensions that have been simmering since Yingluck's Puea Thai party swept to victory in July 2011.

Protesters held signs with pictures of Yingluck including one bearing the caption "PM=Puppet Moron" as others waved yellow flags associated with the royal family.

"I'm telling Thaksin that if he wants to return to Thailand, he needs to bow before the king and serve his prison sentence," Boonlert told the demonstrators.

Thailand has seen a series of political protests since 2006 with pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin groups taking turns to challenge various administrations' right to rule.