Thai police in bloody clash with protesters; 4 dead

Four people including a policeman were killed yesterday in skirmishes between anti-government protesters and anti-riot police at the Phan Fah Lilat Bridge in Bangkok.

The casualties resulted from an operation mounted by the caretaker government's anti-protest operations agency, the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), to reclaim areas occupied by the protesters. The operation is code-named "Peace for Bangkok".

The total number of casualties included 64 injuries. Yesterday's violence was a second clash by police against the protesters.

A pre-election clash last year at the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Din Daeng area saw two deaths and 160 injuries. However, it was the first time heavy weapons were used, including at least one M-79 grenade attack, which the CMPO said was from the protesters' side.

Listing the fatalities, the Erawan Emergency Medical Service Centre said Suphot Bunrung, 52, succumbed to head wounds; Thanusak Rattanakhot, 29, could not be revived after losing consciousness; and Pol Senior Sgt-Major Phianchai Pharawat, 45, sustained fatal chest wounds.

The fourth fatality, announced by the Erawan Centre, was of an unidentified man who died from chest wounds. He was pronounced dead at Vajira Hospital where he had been admitted and treated.

Media video footage showed a group of policemen falling after being hit by an explosion, while online photos show a policeman aiming a pistol at an unknown target.

CMPO member Tarit Pengdith accused People's Democratic Reform Committee supporters of firing both the M-79 grenades and handguns at the police. He said the CMPO planned to continue carrying out operations to reclaim the occupied areas every day from today - but only during daylight hours.

Deputy Bangkok police chief Pol Maj-General Adul Narongsak said M-79 rounds were fired by assailants with no known political affiliation from rooftops of nearby buildings. He added that police would need to secure vantage points around the Phan Fah Lilat Bridge in their future efforts to reclaim the area.

The clashes began at around 11.40am when a police force encountered protesters behind a sandbag barricade behind the bridge, during an effort by police to gain access to Government House, which is barricaded by a large group of PDRC supporters. The violence stopped at around 3pm when police retreated into the Metropolitan Police Bureau compound and the protesters retired behind their barricades. An earlier CMPO-led operation reclaimed areas outside the Energy Ministry on Vibhavadi Road that had been occupied by another group of protesters allied with the PDRC.

The dawn operation apprehended 144 protesters including two core leaders, Dr Rawee Maschamadol and Tossapon Kaewtima.

Another protest leader, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, was apprehended at the Phan Fah Lilat Bridge rally site, but was later rescued by a group of unidentified men who snatched him from a police mobile-detention unit and set him free. He said in interviews later that the five men were dressed in black but not hooded, and that one of them was shot in the leg while trying to rescue him.

The 144 arrested protesters have been detained at a police facility in Pathum Thani.