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Protesters in Thailand threaten prime minister, seize ministries amid deadly demonstrations
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BANGKOK — Skirmishes between police and rock-throwing protesters killed at least four people and injured more than 100 Sunday, when mobs swarmed government offices, TV stations and police headquarters in an escalation of weeklong efforts to oust the prime minister.
Gunshots rang out at a Bangkok stadium, where the deaths occurred, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was forced to flee a meeting with security officials at police headquarters when protesters attempted to storm the facility, apparently unaware that she was inside.
The increasingly violent protests have generated fears of instability in Thailand, one of the biggest economies in Southeast Asia and a key non-NATO ally of the U.S.
Sunday marked the first time police used force to quell protests since the demonstrations against the Yingluck administration began last week.
Short of establishing a curfew, Thai authorities advised Bangkok residents to stay indoors overnight Sunday to avoid injury.
“After 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., if it is not necessary, we ask people to not leave their homes, for their safety, so they will not become victims of provocateurs,” Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok said in a televised announcement.
Protesters have demanded that Ms. Yingluck, 46, resign her office, calling her a “puppet” of her billionaire brother — former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup. Ms. Yingluck had backed an amnesty bill that many said would have absolved her brother, who exiled himself to avoid a two-year prison sentence for a corruption conviction.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, a former lawmaker for the opposition Democrat Party, met Sunday with Ms. Yingluck to demand her resignation and the dissolution of parliament to save the country from “bad politicians.”
“He said the problem could be resolved only when she returned the power to the people to form the ‘people’s council’ [that could] appoint a ‘people’s government’ to rule the country,” according to a report by the Thai Public Broadcasting Service.
Ms. Yingluck, who was elected in 2011 after weeks of protests that left scores dead, has refused demands to call an election. Before Sunday’s skirmishes, she was hesitant to authorize the use of force by her country’s U.S.-trained security units.
The Obama administration, which has said it is redirecting attention and resources to Asia, has been mostly quiet about the unrest in Thailand.
Hundreds of protesters hurled firecrackers and rocks Sunday at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons to stop mobs from attacking the prime minister’s empty Government House office, which is ringed with barbed wire and barricades.
Some protesters intimidated several TV stations into broadcasting anti-government propaganda Sunday night. Others failed in their plans to lay siege at police headquarters and the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Interior, Labor and Education, as well as other official buildings.
The Finance Ministry and some other government offices, however, remained under the control of protesters throughout the weekend.
During the past week, Suthep supporters swarmed the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s version of the FBI. Protesters chained its doors Saturday to prevent officials from working after the department recommended indictments against Mr. Suthep and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who leads the Democrat Party, the nation’s oldest political party.
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