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Violence spreads to another Bangkok protest site

February 25, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — Violence spread Tuesday to another anti-government protest site in Thailand’s capital following weekend explosions that left five people dead, including four children, security officials said.

Deputy National Police spokesman Anucha Romyanan said gunmen attacked a protest camp near Lumpini Park in downtown Bangkok early Tuesday. He said shots were fired from a car and a motorcycle at protest site guards there and at another protest site near the upscale Ratchaprasong shopping area.

On Sunday, a grenade attack at Ratchaprasong killed a 6-year-old girl and her 4-year-old brother. A 5-year-old girl died Saturday from another attack on a rally site in the eastern province of Trat and a second 5-year-old girl succumbed to her wounds Tuesday.

The attacks, for which no one has been arrested, are the latest in a spate of protest-related violence roiling Thailand over the past three months. The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign to make way for an appointed interim government to implement reforms aimed at ousting her powerful family from politics, but she has refused.

Anucha said one man was injured in the leg in the Tuesday morning shootings. He did not say if the guards, some of whom are armed, returned fire. At least 20 people have been killed and more than 700 have been hurt since November in violence related to the protests.

On Monday night, a grenade was fired from an M79 launcher near the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party, which is closely allied with the militant anti-government protest movement. There were no injuries but a car was damaged.

While the protesters have failed repeatedly to force Yingluck out by their self-declared deadlines, they have blocked her from working at her normal offices and sent roving mobs after her, making it difficult for her and Cabinet colleagues to make public appearances. The protesters have succeeded in delaying the completion of a general election called by Yingluck, undermining efforts to restore political stability.

Thailand has seen sometimes-violent political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s billionaire brother, was removed by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since taken to the streets for extended periods in a struggle for power.

In 2010, pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” occupied part of Bangkok for two months and were backed by their own armed militia. More than 90 people were killed in violent confrontations, with the army finally sweeping away the demonstrators.

In a weekend meeting, the Red Shirts threatened to mobilize again if Yingluck’s government is at risk of being ousted.

Yingluck faces several court cases which could force her from power. The courts are widely seen as being biased against Thaksin’s political machine, and there are fears her supporters could return to the streets if they feel she is facing a “judicial coup.”

She is also facing pressure from farmers who have not been paid an estimated 130 billion baht ($4 billion) for rice they sold to the government. The subsidy scheme has embroiled her in potentially devastating legal troubles, and the failure to make payments risks undermining her political base.

Her Cabinet on Tuesday resolved to disburse 20 billion baht ($610 million) in a partial payment for the farmers. The amount must be approved by the state Election Commission, which will determine whether it is legal pending completion of the country’s general election. The polls were held earlier this month but were disrupted by protesters in some areas, where voting is now expected to be completed in March.

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