Thai police fired rubber bullets to quell violent demonstrations aimed at the overthrow of Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister, on Monday, as the government sought to arrest the leader of the protests for "insurrection".
As Yingluck rejected an ultimatum to step down, clashes between police and demonstrators attempting to storm Government House became increasingly ugly. Groups of masked young men used catapults to hurl stones at security forces and a police truck was hijacked and used as a battering ram in an unsuccessful effort to break through the concrete barriers blocking the roads to Government House.
Police responded by firing rubber bullets, despite a pledge not to use violence against the protesters, as well as employing water cannon and discharging barrage after barrage of tear gas. So far, four people have been killed in the worst violence to engulf the Thai capital since it was convulsed by protests in 2010.
Yingluck dismissed a call by Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the protest, to step down by today, and for the government to be replaced with an unelected people's council. "Anything I can do to bring peace back to the Thai people, I will do," said Yingluck in a televised address.
"But as prime minister, what I can do must be under the constitution." Thaugsuban now faces an arrest warrant for insurrection. Chayut Thanataweerat, the deputy metropolitan police commander, warned in a televised statement that he would be "punished with death or life imprisonment" for his attempt to topple the government.
Thailand remains bitterly divided between the largely rural and urban working class supporters of the ruling Pheu Thai party and the middle classes who regard Yingluck as a proxy for her brother and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 and fled in 2008 to avoid corruption charges. Many Thais believe he continues to run the country from his homes in London and Dubai.
There are now mounting concerns about the impact of the protests on the country's tourism industry. At least 23 countries, including Britain, have issued advisory warnings about travel to Thailand.