Dozens injured as Thai police clear protest sites

View photos
Anti-government protesters pour cement on concrete barriers to seal the gate of the prime minister's office of government house during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. Suthep Thaugsuban led hundreds of protesters to surround the government house after hearing that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will this week return to work at her office. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

BANGKOK (AP) — At least 42 people were injured in clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Bangkok on Tuesday after police started rounding up demonstrators who have been camping out at various spots around the capital.

Multiple gunshots were heard midday at the site in a historic section of town near the Government House, but it wasn't clear who was firing.

Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit said at a televised press conference that the protesters had launched grenades at the police. He said one police officer was shot in the head and at least six other policemen were injured.

Police moved into several protest sites around the city to detain and remove protesters wanting to unseat the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They have been blocking access to government offices since late last year and occupying key intersections in Bangkok for about a month, and the police had until now refrained from dispersing demonstrators for fear of unleashing violence.

But on Monday, the government's special security command center announced it would reclaim five protest sites around the city for public use, a move made possible under a state of emergency declared in January. Thousands of police officers, including armed anti-riot squads, were deployed across the city Tuesday in an operation the government called "Peace for Bangkok."

Earlier Tuesday, 144 protesters gathered near the Energy Ministry in the northern part of the city were peacefully detained and herded onto police trucks to be taken away for questioning, Tharit said.

But at a protest site not far from the Government House, clashes erupted between riot police and demonstrators as police used bulldozers to clear out a makeshift stage.

Erawan emergency medical services said at least 42 people were injured in that incident, including one foreign journalist. It was not immediately known if the rest were protesters or police.

Tuesday's operation came one day before the Civil Court hands down a ruling on the caretaker government's invocation of the emergency decree, which allows authorities to exercise wide powers to detain protesters and hold them in custody for 30 days without charges.

If the decree is struck down by the court, the government will be force to dismantle the special security command center it had set up to enforce the emergency measures.

The protesters want Yingluck to step aside for an unelected people's council to implement reforms they say are needed to end corruption. Since the protests began in November, at least 10 people have been killed and scores injured.

At another protest site near the Government House, police officers were asking protesters to leave but protesters refused after hearing about the violence at the nearby rally site.

Caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt told The Associated Press the protesters hijacked two of the city's public buses and used them to block a rally site at the Interior Ministry near the Grand Palace.

Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006 when Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Since then, his supporters and opponents have vied for power, sometimes violently.


Associated Press photo journalist Wally Santana and television journalist Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul contributed to this report.