BANGKOK - Thai police fired tear gas and water cannon Sunday at protesters trying to storm the government headquarters to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, after violence in the capital left four dead and dozens wounded.
The bloodshed is the latest in a series of outbreaks of civil strife in the kingdom since royalist generals ousted billionaire tycoon-turned-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, seven years ago.
The street rallies, aimed at replacing Yingluck's government with an unelected "people's council", are the biggest since mass pro-Thaksin protests in Bangkok three years ago left dozens dead in a military crackdown.
Police repeatedly fired tear gas and water cannon as protesters tried for hours to breach barricades and cut barbed wire protecting Government House, which was heavily guarded by security forces including unarmed soldiers, according to an AFP reporter.
Yingluck was not present at the time. The government denied rumours that she had fled the country but her whereabouts were unknown. Tear gas was also fired at protesters near the metropolitan police headquarters several kilometres (miles) away.
Demonstrators marched on major television stations while several large shopping malls, including one that was set ablaze during political unrest in 2010, were closed as a precaution.
Violence broke out late Saturday in the area around a suburban stadium where tens of thousands of pro-government "Red Shirts" had gathered in support of Yingluck, who has faced weeks of street protests.
Four people were killed and 57 wounded, according to Bangkok's Erawan emergency centre. The dead and injured suffered a range of wounds including gunshots and stabbings.
At least two of the dead were believed to be Red Shirt supporters.
The circumstances were unclear but the violence came after an anti-government mob attacked Red Shirts arriving to join the rally in Ramkhamhaeng district.
They were the first deaths since the mostly peaceful demonstrations began a month ago. Both sides blamed each other for attacking their supporters.
The violence prompted Red Shirt leaders to end their rally, which had drawn tens of thousands of mainly rural poor in support of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile but remains a hugely divisive figure in Thailand.
A double-decker bus was also set ablaze Sunday in the same area.