BANGKOK (AP) — Rock-throwing protesters trying to halt preparations for elections fought police in the Thai capital on Thursday, escalating their campaign to topple the country's beleaguered government.
At least 48 people were wounded, three of them police officers, authorities said.
Security authorities fired rubber bullets and tear gas toward the demonstrators, who were attempting to force their way into a sports stadium being used candidates to draw lots for their position on polling papers.
The protesters failed to halt the proceedings inside the stadium, where representatives from 27 parties drew lots. But four election commissioners had to be evacuated from facility by helicopter because of the fighting outside.
Police Col. Anucha Romyanan urged the demonstrators to assemble peacefully and said "attempts are being made to escalate the political situation by causing violence."
The clashes were contained to the area around the stadium but stretched into the morning. It was the first violent incident in nearly two weeks of daily protests on the streets of Bangkok.
The protesters have been demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down since mid-October, and street unrest has occasionally broken out. They oppose the polls scheduled for Feb. 2 because Yingluck is seen as sure to win them.
Police have largely shown restraint and have made no move to arrest the ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented.
Thailand has been wracked by political conflict since Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a 2006 military coup. The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields influence in the country.
Thaksin or his allies have won every election since 2001 thanks to strong support in the north and northeast of the country. His supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok's elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class, which have strong links to the royal family.
On Wednesday, Yingluck announced a proposal for a national reform council to come up with a compromise to the crisis, but it was rejected by the protesters. They now plan more civil disobedience and street protests in a bid to provoke such chaos that Yingluck will be forced to resign as caretaker.
The country's main opposition party, which is allied with the protesters, is boycotting the elections, which Yingluck called early in hopes of giving her a fresh mandate and defusing the crisis.
Yingluck led the country for two years relatively smoothly. But in October, her government tried to introduce an amnesty law that would have allowed Thaksin to return to the country as a free man, sparking the latest round of unrest.