Hundreds Injured in Thai Protests

BANGKOK — Thailand’s political crisis worsened Tuesday when antigovernment protesters trapped lawmakers inside the Parliament building and fought running battles with the police that left one person dead and nearly 400 injured.

Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

Riot police officers beat an antigovernment protester outside Parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday. At least one person was killed during a series of street battles.

The violence on Tuesday included attacks on the Thai police by protesters armed with sticks. Lawmakers were trapped inside Parliament for several hours before they were able to escape.

The army was deployed on the streets of Bangkok after the worst political violence since 1992 as protesters continued a six-week sit-in outside the prime minister’s office, forcing the government to conduct its business from a former international airport.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat asserted that he would not step down, and the military repeated a promise not to stage a coup, while the protesters said they would continue their actions until they brought down the government.

They accuse the ruling party of being an extension of the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was elected on a populist program in 2001 and ousted in a coup in September 2006. He now lives in London but continues to exert influence among his allies here.

The protesters surrounded Parliament throughout the day Tuesday, and Mr. Somchai left by escaping over a back fence in the morning after delivering a policy address. But other members of Parliament were unable to leave for more than five hours, until the police dispersed the protesters with volleys of tear gas.

The Thai military announced that it would deploy unarmed troops to help the police keep peace in the days to come.

“We ran, ran, ran,” said one Parliament member, Niyom Vejkarma, who had stripped off his jacket and tie and fled from the building in his patent leather shoes.

“My eyes are sore,” he said, referring to the tear gas that lingered in the air as he and fellow lawmakers stood at a street corner with their cellphones and called their drivers.

The assault on Parliament was the culmination of an escalating feud between an urban elite trying to reclaim traditional hierarchical authority and a democratically elected government backed by a rising rural underclass.

The protesters were led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, a patchwork coalition of businessmen, academics and activists who have held street demonstrations against the government since May, and occupied the grounds on Aug. 26.

Their protests have remained mostly peaceful, but they have set the country on edge with memories of a military crackdown in 1992 when the army killed dozens of pro-democracy protesters demanding the ouster of a military-backed government.

Speaking to reporters after the violence subsided late Tuesday, Cmdr. Gen. Anupong Paochinda of the army asserted: “We will not stage a coup. A coup would not do any good to the country. It won’t accomplish anything. It is not hard to stage a coup. But making a country function after staging one is.”

The civilian government installed by the military after its coup in 2006 was widely seen as incompetent and ineffective. When Mr. Thaksin’s allies regained power in a parliamentary election last December, the country returned to the political standoff that had led to the coup.

Mr. Somchai is a brother-in-law of Mr. Thaksin. He has sought to find a compromise with the protesters since taking office last month, but the protest at the Parliament building appears to have derailed the early stages of talks.

The alliance says it wants to modify the country’s democratic system to weaken the electoral power of the rural poor, who formed the base of support for Mr. Thaksin and now for the governing People Power Party.

The protesters’ assault on the Parliament building and the street battles appeared to have been well planned and well supplied — demonstrators distributed food, water and masks to protect against tear gas.

The protesters made barricades of tires and razor wire and secured the entrance to the Parliament building. Reinforcements arrived during the afternoon, some carrying banners.

The police attacked repeatedly, firing tear gas canisters and chasing protesters down alleys.

The protesters, some wearing motorcycle helmets and masks, some armed with metal rods, machetes and slingshots, threw back the tear gas canisters and used rocks and firecrackers as missiles.


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