Police play pivotal role in Thai clashes (+video)
Opposition leaders are targeting the police in a bid to escalate their week-long protests before an expected timeout by Thursday for the king's birthday, a public holiday.
Antigovernment protesters clashed with police in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, a day after protest leaders issued an ultimatum to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.
The violence has engulfed Thailandâ€™s capital for more than a week and is the worst the Southeast Asian country has seen since protests in 2010 ended in a deadly crackdown by the Army. [Editor's note: The original article misstated the forces involved in the crackdown.] Â
Rocks and glass bottles rained down on heavily fortified police lines outside the offices of the prime minister in BangkokÂ on Monday, where protesters have been trying to break through barriers to take control of the complex.
Demonstrators also clashed with security forces outside the metropolitan police bureau, where high velocity tear gas canisters and water cannons were used to disperse the crowd.
Police fired rubber bulletsÂ on MondayÂ for the first time since protests began eight days ago in a sign they are escalating their response. Until now the police have received tacit praise fromÂ human rights groups for their relative restraint under sustained attack from demonstrators â€“ a marked difference from 2010 when live rounds were fired into the crowd, killing more than 90 people.
At least three people have been confirmed killed in this weekâ€™s protests, in deaths attributed to battles between Ms. Yingluckâ€™s supporters and opponents, rather than the police.
On MondayÂ night, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition lawmaker who resigned to lead the protests, called on demonstrators to â€śwage war on the police.â€ť Mr. Suthep said that the police headquarters will be the focus of violenceÂ on Tuesday, which is the same day as the deadline he set for Yingluck to resign expires.
Analysts say the protesters appear to be trying to bait the police into a more heavy-handed response, which would escalate the crisis, provoking the use of live fire and increasing the chances of the leading party losing legitimacy.
â€śThey want to force the governmentâ€™s game. They are trying to draw blood,â€ť says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkokâ€™s Chulalongkorn University.
The king's birthday
The next 24 hours are a make-or-break situation for Yingluck as the police come under increasing pressure to react to mounting violence, Mr. Thitinan says. â€śThe main option for the government is to stand their ground, exercise the utmost restraint, and let the clock run out.â€ťÂ
Itâ€™s widely assumed that both sides want a resolution beforeÂ Thursday, which is the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailandâ€™s long-reigning and highly respected monarch. It's a public holiday and protests are normally taboo on this day. The king has long been seen as the arbiter of Thailandâ€™s bitterly divided politics, though his influence has waned in recent years.
If the opposition is not able to topple Yingluck's government before Thursday, momentum for the protests may dwindle.
A 'people's council'
Yingluck, Thailandâ€™s first female prime minister, saidÂ on Monday that she was â€śopen to every optionâ€ť available to solve the crisis, including dissolving parliament and resigning. However, she said demands by Suthep to â€śhand power to the peopleâ€ť were unconstitutional. Suthep called Sunday for a "people's council" to be established to replace the current parliament and said a "people's government" should be formed to replace the Yingluck administration. He did not offer details of his proposals.Â
Yingluck called for further talks with protesters who have been joined by the opposition Democrats, Thailand's oldest political party.
The Democrats have not won an election in more than two decades and have lost every national vote for the past 13 years to Thaksin Shinawatra or his allies. Suthep was a deputy prime minister in the Democrat-led government that lost power to Yingluck in a general election in 2011.
Suthep and Yingluck metÂ on SundayÂ but were unable to come to an agreement. Instead Suthep called for a general strike.
"Stop working for the Thaksin regime and come out and protest," he said.
It was unclear how many people stayed away from workÂ on MondayÂ in response to Suthepâ€™s demand. Several major universities closedÂ on MondayÂ citing student safety as the reason.
Police have not released official figures on this weekendâ€™s protests. Estimates place the total at around 30,000 people over the weekend, with a smaller turnout Monday.
The government asked Bangkokâ€™s 10 million residents to stay indoors betweenÂ 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Mr. Thaksin, who won over poor rural and urban voters with populist policies, was convicted in absentia of graft in 2008. He dismisses the charges as politically motivated and remains in close touch with the government from his self-imposed exile, sometimes holding meetings with Yingluck's cabinet by webcam.