Thailand's army chief today issued a rare warning that the military may "use force" if political violence escalated after three persons were killed in a grenade and gun attack on anti-government protesters who later stormed the acting premier's meeting, forcing him to flee.
Concerned by the latest violence that returned to the crisis-hit country in weeks, Army Chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha said: "I want to warn every group - especially those who use violence and war weapons against innocent civilians - to stop now because if the violence continues the military may be needed to come out... to restore peace and order."
In unusually strong comments, he said his troops "may need to use force to resolve the situation," threatening "decisive measures" if civilians are hurt.
Earlier, at least three persons were killed and 24 others injured when grenades were hurled at anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) members. Following the explosion, people in a pickup truck opened fire, according to witnesses.
Hours later, the protesters stormed into an air force compound, venue of the meeting between Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan and the Election Commission to fix a date for new polls, following which the premier fled. They had put off talks at another place yesterday due to security fears.
"We are here to tell Niwatthamrong that there is no point standing in our way," Chumpol Jumsai, an anti-government leader, said from on top of a truck to hundreds of protesters.
The fresh unrest casts doubts on the July 20 polls, with the EC saying the elections "must be postponed" due to prevailing political unrest that has claimed 28 lives.
EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said an election on July 20 looked improbable.
"We may have to push back the polls," he said.
The PDRC has launched its "all-out final battle" to install an unelected leader after Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's only woman premier, was ordered to step down by the Constitutional Court over abuse of power.
Another court indicted her for negligence over a controversial rice subsidy scheme and Yingluck will face impeachment that could see her banned from politics for five years.
The two court decisions have bolstered the opposition that has been demanding Yingluck's ouster for months and accuse the 46-year-old of acting as a proxy for her fugitive brother, former premier Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006.
The EC and Yingluck-led government earlier reached an agreement to hold elections on July 20 after the February 2 snap polls were declared null and void.