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Violence heightens uncertainty

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October 8, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Violence heightens uncertainty

Thai authorities have made little comments after the day-long clash between the riot police and anti-government protesters in the Thai capital Bangkok on Tuesday which saw two dead and hundreds injured, according to local media and agencies’ reports.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat rebuffed the protesters' demands to step down. "I came in to do my job, so I will not quit working," Somchai told reporters. Earlier, according to Thai media, he had to climb over a fence to get past the crowds and escape from Parliament.

The violence, which began shortly after 6am when police first cleared the street outside parliament, surged again in late afternoon, as the authorities fired countless volleys of tear gas to break through the protesters' cordon so lawmakers could leave. One woman died and more than 400 people were injured, reported the Associated Press.

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The army moved into the streets of the capital later in the evening while most of the protesters eventually left the area around Parliament and regrouped on the grounds of the prime minister's office, which they have occupied since August 26.

The violence heightened the political uncertainty that has bedeviled Thailand since early 2006, when large protests called for Thaksin Shinawatra, the tycoon-turned-prime minister, to step down for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

The upheaval comes at a tough time: the Thai stock market has sunk nearly 40 percent since May; a Muslim insurgency rages in the south; the rich tourist market has shrunk.

The protesters' rage over what they see as an effort to reinstall Thaksin by stealth leads some to suspect that they are pushing for a showdown that would re-energise them and possibly force another coup to oust the government.

But Army Commander Gen. Anupong Paochinda, speaking to reporters Tuesday night, said: "The military will not stage a coup. A coup would not do any good to the country. It won't accomplish anything. It is not hard to stage a coup. But making a country function after staging one is."

It was the second time troops have been deployed to help keep the peace since the protests began. Soldiers were first sent in - also without firearms - on September 2 after government supporters clashed with the protesters, leaving one dead.

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