The mounting death toll of anti-government protesters has triggered the Army's strongest reaction, saying it may need to resort to "full military force" if the bloodshed continues.
"I want to warn every group, especially those using violence and war weapons against innocent civilians, to stop now. If this goes on, the military may be needed to come out to restore peace and order," Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a statement.
The troops "may need to use full force to resolve the situation" if the violence escalates, he said, adding that "decisive measures" would be inevitable if common citizens are hurt.
The message, which came after grenade and gun attacks on the main protest site early yesterday killed three people and wounded 22 others, was aimed at individuals or groups who continue harming common people, Prayuth said.
They will have to face absolute legal measures. They will not be able to ask for any compensation. Those planning to raid or seize military venues should stop immediately, the statement said.
Military commanders can impose martial law in specific areas in the event of war or riot, but Prayuth, who now also serves as deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command, did not mention that in his statement, which was read out by deputy Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari.
Meanwhile, the Senate has come up with an eight-step road map to lead the country out of the political deadlock, according to sources.
The Upper House will seek a Constitutional Court interpretation as to whether caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan can serve as acting prime minister. If he has no power to do so, the Senate Speaker, in his capacity as Parliament president, should have the authority to nominate a prime minister for royal endorsement, the sources said.
An interim government is expected to be in office for 18 months or longer to prepare reform proposals before a new general election is held, according to the guidelines.
The ruling Pheu Thai Party totally disagrees with any proposal to appoint an unelected prime minister and will not join the meetings hosted by acting Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai, supposedly aimed at finding a way out of the political stalemate.
Pheu Thai issued its own 11-point statement reiterating that Surachai has no legal power to hold such sessions, even though they would be informal.
Its statement said the senators' discussions with independent organisations, universities and other groups had the ulterior motive of lending legitimacy to the campaign by anti-government leader Suthep Thaugsuban to appoint a new prime minister. It said this could lead to more trouble.
Pheu Thai also admonished Surachai for helping Suthep, who has been charged with sedition, to seize power from the government.
"A new prime minister who is unlawfully appointed will face opposition from the people, and he will be unable to run the country normally. The problem will expand and the crisis could turn into a civil war," the party said in its statement.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva questioned the legitimacy of the caretaker government after Yingluck Shinawatra was dismissed as prime minister by the Constitutional Court recently for abuse of power.
"What is the point of the Cabinet members keeping their seats when they can no longer tackle the country's many problems that have remained unsolved?" said Abhisit, whose party boycotted the February 2 election.
In a crisis like this, an interim government headed by a "politically neutral person" is needed to run the country for a short period of time, he claimed.
"This is the best way for the country's democracy to move on," he said.