BANGKOK, 7 Oct 2008: More than 70 demonstrators were injured, four of them seriously, after Thai police fired tear gas this morning to disperse hundreds of anti-government supporters who had laid siege to Parliament since last night.
Rescue workers said at least one protester almost lost his leg after a tear gas canister fired by the police hit the protesters while one woman, who is in her 50s, had eye and leg injuries.
Police, numbering about 1,500, fired 40 to 50 canisters at the demonstrators who had blocked all roads leading to Parliament in an attempt to block the new government under Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from giving its policy speech.
Somchai, the brother-in-law of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and who was appointed premier in the middle of September, arrived at Parliament at about
9.45am as the government vowed it would continue to deliver the policy speech despite a boycott by the opposition Members of Parliament over the way the police handled the protesters.
He declined to answer reporters’ questions and just smiled while walking into the Parliament hall.
The anti-government crowd under the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) swelled to thousands after the incident, as they brought in mobile stage, food and medical aid and camped opposite Parliament’s main gate, at the entrance of the Dusit Zoo.
Arkorn Rodkantoch, a rescue worker, claimed that police fired tear gas directly at the demonstrators who had been camping there since last night.
“They just shot straight at the people. I saw one hitting a woman on her leg…she was badly injured. We treated at least 100 people, including police who had eye irritation,” he said.
The demonstrators ran for cover when police started firing tear gas at about 6.20am, Arkorn said, adding that most of the injuries were due to the tear gas and not due to violence by the police.
On 5 Oct, police arrested PAD leader and former army general Chamlong Srimuang when he went to cast his vote in the Bangkok Governor election. Two days earlier, Chaiwat Sinsuwongse became the first leader to be taken into custody.
After thousands of PAD supporters stormed the Government House, where the prime minister’s office is located, on 26 Aug, police obtained arrest warrants against the nine core leaders of the anti-government movement.
The nine are facing numerous charges, including that for treason, which carries the death sentence if convicted.
Other PAD leaders with warrants of arrest are media tycoon Sondh Limthongkul, Somkiart Pongpaiboon, Somsak Kosaisuk, Amorn Amornratananont, Pipop Thongchai, Suriyasai Katasila and Therdpoom Chaidee.
The PAD came into prominence after it led massive demonstrations in Bangkok in 2006, which led to the military ouster of Thaksin, who is currently in exile in Britain.
Following the seizure of the Government House, the then prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, came under intense pressure to resign, but stood firm until he was booted out by the Constitution Court for appearing on television cooking shows, which violated the Constitution.
His successor, Somchai, is running the country from a makeshift office at the Don Muang Airport. — Bernama