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Five shot in Bangkok as political tensions escalate

Gunfire during a confrontation in Bangkok between groups that oppose or support the government heightens fears of further political violence

Photo by:

AFP

Anti-government protesters prevent a fire truck from entering the Royal Armed Forces Headquarters in Bangkok Tuesday.

Thaksin vows to return to politics

Thailand's ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra has unveiled plans to return to politics in his homeland.

Thaksin, who had since his removal in a coup in September 2006 professed his retirement from politics, told Arabian Business magazine that Thailand was suffering after months of anti-government protests. "The country is going down deeply. The confidence is not there. The trust amongst foreign community is not there. The poor people in rural areas are in difficulty," he said in the interview. "With me at the helm I can bring confidence quickly back to Thailand. We have to find a mechanism under which I can go back, that is why I must tell you that I will go back into politics." 

BANGKOK - Five people were wounded in the Thai capital Tuesday when gunfire broke out during a clash between pro- and anti-government supporters, police said.

The incident happened on the road to Bangkok's old Don Muang international airport, where thousands of demonstrators have surrounded the temporary offices of the country's prime minister in an effort to force him to resign.

"Five supporters of the government have been wounded from gunshots by PAD who were on a pickup truck," a senior Metropolitan police officer who did not want to be named told AFP.

He warned that some supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-government protest group were armed and cautioned that there could be more clashes as political tensions escalated in the kingdom.

Police Colonel Piyapong Pholvanich, from the police station close to where the incident happened, told AFP: "I can confirm that there were gunshots."

Clashes

Thai television reported that clashes broke out when PAD protesters tried to storm a community radio station run by a group of taxi drivers who support the current government.

TV footage showed people in yellow shirts - which symbolise loyalty to the monarchy and have become the unofficial uniform of the PAD - in the back of a pickup truck as motorcycle taxi drivers attacked them with sticks.

The violence occurred on the second day of protests aimed at toppling the elected government.

Yellow-clad activists took trucks, buses and cars to Don Muang airport - where premier Somchai Wongsawat set up shop after activists occupied the capital's main government offices in August.

The show of force came a day after thousands of demonstrators descended on parliament in what they have called the "final battle" against the administration, forcing lawmakers to postpone a joint session.

"There are more than 10,000 of us here, and we are prepared for a long siege like at Government House (in central Bangkok)," said Sawit Kaoewan, a leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy. Police confirmed the figure.

Despite the mounting disruption to his administration, Somchai vowed not to cave in to the protesters' demands and branded their movement "a rebellion".

"The people are the ones who make decisions because my government came from an election under the constitution... Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion," Somchai told the Thai National News Agency.

The PAD, which is backed by the old power elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy, accuses the government of being a corrupt puppet of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Call to intervene

The alliance has called on the army to intervene and says it wants to change the one-man, one-vote electoral system that has delivered victories for Thaksin - Somchai's brother-in-law - and his allies since 2001.

Police largely withdrew from the airport site overnight and were hardly visible on Tuesday morning, amid fears of a repeat of violent clashes during rallies on October 7 that left two dead and 500 injured.

Thousands of PAD supporters left the old airport and moved to the nearby military headquarters after speculation that the Cabinet would meet there, but returned to Don Muang when they were prevented entry.

The government said the regular Tuesday Cabinet meeting had been pushed back to Wednesday, when the prime minister returns from an APEC summit in Peru.

Meanwhile, government-run corporations said there was no response to a strike call by Thailand's main public sector union, the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation, which has 190,000 members.

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