BANGKOK - Anti-Thai government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban insisted Monday night on taking a tough stance against the Yingluck Shinawatra government by calling on his supporters to continue with their efforts to seize the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) - which he said was a stronghold of the powers-that-be. A target of his key objective, it shows he has no plans to retreat anytime soon.
"Tomorrow we will lay siege of the MPB compound. Let them see that police can fight armed policemen and beat them. It is the police who fired tear gas at us over the past two days. Tomorrow, we will go so they can fire it again," he said.
He added that were two government strongholds as well as the MPB - Government House and the Royal Thai Police headquarters.
Speaking at the Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road, Suthep dared the police to arrest him. "I'll spend the night at Government Complex. If he is arrested, someone else will take over job," said Suthep, referring to his title as secretary-general of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
Meanwhile, for the first time since the protests began a month ago, two people were reported to have sustained wounds from live bullets yesterday. This comes after the two-day battle between protesters and police guarding the MPB. The injuries were confirmed in a statement from Ramathibodi Hospital last night.
The statement, read out by Assoc Prof Somsak Udomlipi, confirmed that the victims had been hit by 9mm calibre bullets. One unidentified victim was hit in the spine, which may leave him unable to walk permanently.
Somsak said information on the trajectory of the bullet would be sought from the Institute of Forensic Medicine. The statement did not give details or comments about where the bullets were shot from.
Earlier, in a live televised interview, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she was willing to "open every door" for negotiations to try to find a peaceful resolution to some of the worst political turmoil in years.
The PM said she would consider resigning or dissolving the House if that would end the stalemate - however, she said the protesters' demand for a "people's assembly" was unacceptable under the Constitution.
"I don't know how we can proceed with that. We don't know how to make that happen. Right now we don't see any way of resolving this problem under the Constitution," the PM said in the 12-minute-long press conference.
"If there is any way I can restore peace, I am willing to do it. The government does not have to hold onto power; we only want peace."
This was her first public appearance after protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban announced on Sunday night that he had meet the premier and Army leaders earlier in the day.
Suthep said he would not be satisfied with a resignation by Yingluck or a new election. He wants a non-elected "people's council" to choose a prime minister.
Several organisations have called for peace. Seven business groups issued a joint statement yesterday, calling for negotiations with peaceful and democratic solutions.
An agreement was reportedly reached for a three-hour "ceasefire" between supporters of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), who were attempt to breach key government compounds and police protecting them.
At around 5pm, the PDRC leaders called on supporters to withdraw from all three fronts - Karn Ruen intersection near Parliament House, and the Metropolitan Police Bureau, plus the Royal Thai Police compounds, which were surrounded by a large number of PDRC supporters.
There were no further details on a possible deal and who may have made it. But high-level press conferences were expected at around 8.30pm last night.
There were reports that Bangkok police chief Pol Lt General Camronvit Toopkrajank was dismissed from a position on the government-appointed Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), which runs the anti-protest operation, for unknown reasons. But CAPO spokesman Pol Maj General Piya Uthayo later rejected this.
Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog told the press that Yingluck had assigned Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul to replace him as chief of the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO). As new CAPO chief, Surapong said he was willing to negotiate with Suthep, provided all government offices were allowed to function normally.
Meanwhile, PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan rebutted Yingluck's statement, saying the government was doing the opposite of what she said, as red shirts were still mobilising people.
He said her decision to replace Pracha with Surapong as CAPO chief proved that her government wanted to continue fighting with the people because Surapong was directly connected with Yingluck's brother, fugitive and former prime minister Thaksin.
Key members of the ruling Pheu Thai Party also issued a statement yesterday voicing their support for Yingluck.
Deputy Commerce Minister Nuttawut Saikuar, in his capacity as a red-shirt core leader, appeared on red-run Asia Update satellite channel rejecting the PDRC's demand, and called on other red shirts to symbolically rip up paper to signify their rejection of Suthep's call for a people's council and people's charter.
He called on the reds to do this at city halls as well.
Meanwhile, PDRC protesters attempted to enter Government House for a second day. They used a wheeled tractor to remove concrete barriers around the compound but were only able to take out a few of them.
Balloons were also prepared at Democracy Monument - the main rally site - in what PDRC leaders said was an effort to deter police helicopters from flying in supplies to police units protecting the three key government strongholds.