Four people, including a police officer, were killed and at least 64 were injured Tuesday as anti-government demonstrators resisted attempts by thousands of riot police officers to dislodge them from the streets surrounding the prime minister’s office.
Protesters, who are trying to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, remained defiant as the police cleared away barricades erected weeks ago to keep her and other government leaders from their offices.
“We insist that we will remain in the seized areas because we don’t want the Cabinet and prime minister to return and use their barbaric powers,” said Ekanat Prompan, a former member of parliament who is a spokesman for the protest movement.
It remained unclear who was responsible for the deaths Tuesday. Ekanat, who spoke on Thai television, said protesters were “peaceful and unarmed” and accused the government of using weapons against them.
But a news photographer, Jack Kurtz, was among several witnesses who said they had seen a man carrying an assault weapon among the protesters. Kurtz reported on Twitter that protesters had pushed out photographers when gunfire started and told them to stop taking photos.
At least 20 of the injured were police officers. One police officer who was shot in the head and previously listed as dead by state news media was later reported to be in critical condition. The Thai news media reported that one of the civilians killed was a protester.
The government said a grenade had been used against the police and that tear gas had been fired by the protesters – not by the police. Video footage showed a police officer trying to kick away a grenade that had been thrown at the police and detonated in front of them. More than 140 protesters were arrested, but, in a sign of the weakened powers of the Thai authorities, one protest leader who had been arrested Tuesday and detained in a police vehicle was later freed by “unknown men,” according to a protest leader.
Led by a former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, the movement opposing Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister, has been part protest, part insurrection. The protesters have powerful allies in the Thai bureaucracy and among elites who resent the dominance of the Shinawatra family in politics. Protesters denounce the “dictatorship of the majority.”