Skip to main content

Army chief issues warning as violence returns to Bangkok

updated 8:30 PM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Army chief warns that more violence could prompt military "to resolve the situation"
  • 3 people killed, 23 injured when gunmen open fire on anti-government protesters
  • In separate incident, protesters stormed an office complex where PM was holding meeting
  • Rival mass rallies took place in Bangkok over the weekend following a tumultuous week

Bangkok (CNN) -- The head of the Thai army issued a stern warning Thursday to protesters to avoid violence or the military will take action.

Political violence returned to the Thai capital as three anti-government protesters were killed by gunmen, hours before demonstrators hounded the interim Prime Minister from a meeting.

"If the situation turns more violent it could lead to riots," Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a national address. "The Army will have to use military forces to resolve the situation for peace and order."

The attack occurred at about 2 a.m. local time Thursday when gunmen on a pickup truck opened fire on a protest camp near the site of Bangkok's Democracy Monument, where protesters have been camped for months, said Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathabut, Thailand's national security adviser to the Prime Minister.

Tensions escalate in Thailand
Solving Thailand's political crisis?
Acting Thai PM: Govt. still in charge
Thai protesters say TV coverage biased
Thai protesters descend on govt. house

Bangkok's Erawan Emergency Center reported that three people were killed in the attack and 23 injured. The fatally injured victims included a 21-year-old man, who was shot in the chest, and a 51-year-old man.

Later that morning, anti-government protesters stormed the grounds of an Air Force office compound, forcing the country's caretaker Prime Minister to flee a meeting with members of the Election Commission.

Paradon said the protesters drove a truck through a gate to reach the front of an Air Force office complex, while new interim premier Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan and ministers were meeting in another part of the building. As a result of the disruption, the meeting was called off and the politicians left the venue, said Paradon.

Air Force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Montol Sanchukorn told CNN that the protesters, who are seeking the government's ouster, then demanded to "inspect" the room to check that the Prime Minister was no longer inside.

"We allowed them in to see, and they said they would have a bit of a rest before they left," he said. Some protesters remained to stage a sit-in at the complex.

Thailand was rocked by rival mass political protests over the weekend, with pro- and anti-government supporters taking to the streets in their tens of thousands following fresh twists in the country's protracted political crisis.

Thai turmoil

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office along with nine cabinet ministers by a top court last Wednesday, and subsequently indicted by the country's anti-graft body. If the country's Senate votes to impeach her, she could be banned from politics for five years.

WATCH: Acting Thai PM -- 'Government still in charge'

Protesters led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee have been agitating against her government since November, calling for it to be replaced with an unelected interim government.

Drawn mainly from Bangkok's royalist, middle class establishment, the anti-government protesters have been seeking to rid Thai politics of the alleged influence of Yingluck's brother, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, was overthrown in a 2006 military coup and has since lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a corruption conviction. His opponents claim he has continued to exert influence in Thai politics through his sister and other allies.

The November protests that sparked the current crisis were triggered by the government's botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have cleared the way for his return to the political fold.

The anti-government protesters are seeking a new government -- but not through elections, which the opposition Democrat Party has boycotted, arguing the alleged corruption of their political rivals makes widespread reform necessary before any meaningful vote can be held.

'Judicial coup'?

Meanwhile the government's "red shirt" support base, many of whom hail from the country's rural north and northeast, view Shinawatra's ouster as a "judicial coup" and have been protesting what they consider an unfair bias by many of the country's institutions against their side.

Yingluck, who was elected in a landslide at the polls in 2011, is the third Thaksin-linked prime minister to be dismissed by the Constitutional Court, which also dissolved Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai political party in 2007.

Analyst Paul Quaglia, director at PQA Associates, a Bangkok-based risk assessment firm, told CNN last week that Yingluck's supporters saw her dismissal as a case of politically motivated judicial overreach.

"They consider it a way to usurp democratic elections," he said, adding that the opposition was unlikely to win at the polls.

"The Democrat Party say 'No, we can't have elections,' because they know they will lose those elections," he said.

READ MORE: Protesters descend on Thai capital seeking government's ouster

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Thailand coup
updated 3:21 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
The military leader who took control of Thailand in a coup in May has been named the country's prime minister.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
Thailand's new military ruler has added a personal touch to the post-coup charm offensive, writing the lyrics to a pro-junta ballad.
updated 1:03 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Pageant winner Weluree "Fai" Ditsayabut has relinquished her title under a barrage of criticism over her comments about red shirts.
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
They may not be led by Katniss Everdeen, but Thai protesters have adopted one of her symbols. Jessica King reports.
updated 3:29 AM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
The general who seized control of Thailand in a coup has announced he has received royal endorsement to run the country.
updated 3:01 PM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is no longer in military custody, according to a highly placed source in the junta.
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Photos of the demonstrations against military rule in Thailand.
updated 4:03 PM EDT, Sat May 24, 2014
U.S. suspends $3.5 million in aid to Thailand after the military took charge of the country.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Thailand's military declared Thursday that it has taken control of the country in a coup. What does it mean? Here's our explainer.
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
If you're planning on visiting the country, you should be aware of what's going on.
updated 4:55 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
The U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, reacts to the Thai military coup.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
The Thai military has censored TV and radio -- and social media could be next.
updated 2:02 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
Many people are going about their lives as normal -- some are even responding playfully.
One iReporter living in Bangkok says he is more worried about neighborhood snakes than the military coup.
updated 5:48 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
Thailand's military chief announces coup in a televised national address.
ADVERTISEMENT