BANGKOK, Feb 18 – A policeman and three civilians were killed, and 64 others injured in clashes at Phan Fah Bridge, Ratchdamnoen Avenue, where government forces launched a blitz this morning to flush out protesters who seized and have occupied the area since late last year.
The latest casualties added to 677 injuries and 15 deaths since the first violence was recorded at Ramkhamhaeng University on Nov 30 – a month after anti-government protesters kicked off rallies against a parliamentary vote on the controversial Amnesty Bill.
Police said Pol Sgt Pianchai Parawat, 45, was shot in the chest and pronounced dead at Central Hospital along with a civilian, Supote Bunrung, 52, who was shot in the head. Another civilian, identified as Thanusak Ratanakot, 29, died at Vachira Hospital and a Thai man whose name was not immediately known.
The clash at Phan Fah Bridge was the fiercest and most violent in today’s multi-pronged operations against anti-government protesters at the order of the Centre for Managing Peace and Order (CMPO) under the leadership of caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.
CMPO ordered police forces to reclaim rally sites in front of the Energy Ministry on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, the Interior Ministry, Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road and Phan Fah Bridge.
Key leader Somkiat Pongpaiboon was arrested by police as he was marching with protesters. He was taken back from the police about half an hour later and rejoined the protesters on Ratchdamnoen Avenue.
Tarit Pengdith, director general of Department of Special Investigation (DSI), said the CMPO has assigned police to monitor the movement and activities of core leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) on arrest warrants in order to arrest them whenever possible.
He said the protest leaders violated the law in seizing five government sites and public roads, including Government House, the Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road, the Democracy Monument, the Energy Ministry and the Interior Ministry.
He said police were successful in reclaiming the Energy Ministry where 96 men and 48 women were taken into custody for violating the emergency decree. The suspects including Dr Ravee Maschamadol and Tossapol Kaewthima, two key PDRC leaders, were detained at the Border Patrol Police Command, Region 1, in Pathum Thani province.
Mr Tarit said the Government Complex will reopen after Buddhist monk Phra Buddha Issara, who has controlled the rally site there, agreed to open the road for traffic after several days of pressure by the authorities.
The DSI chief said police were unarmed and their operations were open to the media while protesters were armed with M79 grenade launchers and other weapons.
He said today’s CMPO meeting resolved to submit a letter to the Election Commission (EC), seeking legal action against anti-government protesters for disrupting the Feb 2 general election.
EC members have not taken any action against the protesters despite their unlawful activities which obstructed balloting in many constituencies, he said.
PDRC secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban led protesters from Ratchdamnoen Avenue back to their Pathumwan rally venue later today after having observed the situation at nearby Phan Fah Bridge for about an hour.
He marched with PDRC core leaders and supporters from Pathumwan this morning to Government House and moved on to Ratchdamnoen Avenue after hearing news of police suppression against protesters, led by Buddhist monk Phra Bodhirak, on Phan Fah Bridge.
Mr Suthep was joined by Somkiat Pongpaiboon who was briefly held by police.