Thai police fire tear gas, water cannons at protesters

Thailand's beleaguered police force used tear gas and water cannons Sunday morning to beat back anti-government protesters determined to occupy the Government House which houses the office of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The crowd tried but could not dismantle razor wire and concrete barricades laid in front of the complex - a symbolic target for the protesters - trying to overthrow the Yingluck government and replace it with an unelected "people's council".

Thai army general Prayuth Chan-Ocha urged the police to stop using tear gas and asked the two sides to stop the fighting and talk, according to daily Thai Rath.

"We, soldiers are sorry that we can do nothing. We don't want to seek clashes between the people and police," army deputy spokesman quoted Gen Chan-Ocha as saying.

The ongoing protests - at eight points including the metropolitan police headquarters and several television stations - came after a night of bloody clashes between pro- and anti-government groups which left at least two dead at a pro-government "red shirt" gathering in a stadium in Ramkhamhaeng area.

However, tens of thousands of red shirts were able to leave the stadium Sunday morning, after a night marked by pitched battles in the streets around it.

Guns and small bombs were used in the area as roving groups attacked each other, with the police force standing by. This morning the streets were full of broken glass, stones and rubble. Official reports said 45 people were injured in the clashes. Each side - the Red Shirts and the anti-government protesters - accused the other of deploying gunmen to trigger a conflict.

As many as 1,000 students of the nearby Ramkhamhaeng University, who had reportedly been subjected to sniper fire at night from unknown gunmen, remained stranded in the campus waiting to be evacuated.

Government House had been evacuated last Friday night, and a "war room" was set up at the Royal Thai Police Sports Club, where the embattled premier Ms Yingluck was scheduled to meet foreign journalists, including from The Straits Times, on Sunday.

But when the nearby compound of TV network Thai PBS was taken over by protesters and many got into the Police Club compound as well, the interview was hurriedly called off by nervous officials. The premier had left they said, for an undisclosed location.

"We can't guarantee your safety," a police officer told journalists. An aide to the premier said "It seems this situation is getting worse."

The protesters were peaceful however, and police under orders not to use force, just stood passively with shields behind barricades. The government is keen not to use force to disperse the demonstrators, fearing an inevitable backlash and sharp escalation of violence.

But across town they tried to defend Government House and the Metropolitan Police head quarters. Hundreds of protesters remain sitting on the road in front of the police headquarters, and four major shopping malls in the area did not open for business.

They pressured the management of Thai PBS - the country's top independent broadcaster - to uplink the feed from the protest movement's Blue Sky channel, which is a mouthpiece of the Democrat Party several of whose members are leading the protests.

Reports said Thai PBS management was negotiating with the protesters.

The protesters have billed Sunday as a day to finally overthrow the democratically elected two-year old Yingluck government. They see her as a puppet of billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in self-exile since 2008 dodging a two year sentence for corruption. Thaksin remains popular largely among the upcountry rural masses who, the Bangkok elites say, are seduced into voting for his party with money and populist policies.

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