Three protesters have been killed and the country’s prime minister forced to flee from an important meeting as Thailand edged ever closer towards chaos. Officials suggested that an election scheduled for July might have to be postponed.
Unidentified gunmen attacked a camp of anti-government protesters close to Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in the early hours of Thursday, killing three people and injuring more than 20. Later, the acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan was forced to rush out of a meeting with election officials after anti-government protesters broke into the grounds of an air force base where the meeting was taking place.
The incidents on Thursday were just the latest developments in months of turmoil that have reverberated through Thailand where pro and anti-government demonstrators are involved in a stand-off.
The prime minister, appointed earlier this month after the previous premier was ousted by a controversial court, had been meeting with officials to discuss the poll, which had been fixed to take place on 20 July. The meeting was taking place at an air force academy outside of Bangkok. According to the Associated Press the location had been chosen for security reasons.
But despite the presence of riot police and other security, about 100 protesters entered the compound through a side entrance, blowing whistles and waving Thai flags. Mr Niwattumrong and several cabinet ministers at the meeting were alerted to their arrival, ended their meeting and were driven away.
“The government called off the meeting for security reasons,” the Election Commission’s secretary-general, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, told reporters. He said the government has suggested future meetings be held by teleconference and said it may not be possible for polls to proceed as scheduled if meetings with the government are not possible.
The anti-government protesters want the government to stand down immediately and demand that a “neutral” premier be appointed by the upper house of the parliament. They have rejected demands to take part in elections until reforms of the system are carried out because they say the voting is rigged. They have fixed a deadline for this to be carried out by Friday.
They also believe that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, or his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted by a judicial body two weeks ago, should have no role in the country’s politics.
Meanwhile, Red Shirt supporters of the government and the Thaksin family, are equally adamant they will not stand down. Some officials have warned of the possibility of civil war and have suggested the country could even split. Mr Thaksin has large scale support from rural and small town Thais, especially in the north and north-east.