BANGKOK (AFP) - Two anti-government protesters were killed and 21 were wounded in a gun and grenade attack early Thursday in Bangkok, medical officials and police told AFP, stoking fears of wider political violence in the crisis-hit kingdom.
Police said two M79 grenades were launched into a protest site at the city’s Democracy Monument – a stone’s throw from the city’s famed backpacker zone – and were followed by gunshots.
“The first victim was a protester who was sleeping at Democracy Monument, while the second victim was a protest guard who died from gunshots,” Police Major Wallop Prathummuang told AFP.
In a statement on its website, the city’s Erawan Emergency Centre said two people were killed and 21 wounded in the attack, which took place at 3am (2000 GMT Wednesday).
There were no immediate reports of the identity of the gunmen, but both pro- and anti-government supporters are known to have armed hardliners.
The deaths take the toll from six months of protests aimed at toppling the government to 27, with hundreds of others wounded in gun and grenade attacks linked to rallies.
Fears have intensified that the nation’s political deadlock could spiral into street clashes since the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by the nation’s Constitutional Court last week.
Her “Red Shirt” supporters have been holding a rally in a Bangkok suburb and have vowed to defend the government, which has limped on despite her removal from office, along with nine cabinet members over an abuse of power case.
They want new elections slated for July 20 to find a path through the crisis, which has festered since last year.
Anti-government protesters refuse to join elections and say the ruling Puea Thai party administration lacks the legitimacy to govern.
They are calling on the Thai Senate to invoke a clause in the kingdom’s constitution to remove the government and appoint a new premier.
It is unclear what legal basis their move draws on.
Red Shirt leaders have warned of the threat of civil war if their government is dumped and a new prime minister is appointed.
Anti-government protesters have moved to the area immediately around Government House in the city’s historic quarter – a few hundred yards from the site of Thursday’s attack.
They are protected by several layers of concrete barriers and sand bags, while scores of protest guards patrol the area.
Protest leaders now occupy a wing of the state building, holding press conferences as they bid to show the government lacks authority to rule.
Thailand has been cleaved apart by political divisions since 2006 when Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup.
Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon, is reviled by the Bangkok elite and royalist southerners who accuse him of driving rampant corruption, cronyism and of being a threat to the revered monarchy.
But he draws devotion among the kingdom’s north and northeastern rural poor, who say he is the first Thai leader to uplift their situation with populist policies and increasing political power.
Thaksin-led or aligned parties have won every election since 2001, but have also seen four premiers removed by coups or court rulings.