BANGKOK (AP) — Gunbattles broke out Tuesday as hundreds of riot police made their strongest attempt to clear anti-government protest sites around Thailand's capital, leaving at least four people dead and 64 others injured.
Multiple gunshots were heard near the prime minister's offices, where riot police wearing helmets and bulletproof vests had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage. Witnesses said a grenade was thrown at the police and shots were then fired by both sides. The police withdrew after a series of clashes.
In another blow for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the state anti-corruption agency accused her on Tuesday of improperly handling an expensive rice subsidy scheme, putting her in jeopardy of being impeached.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck's government proceeded with the scheme despite advice from experts that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption. The government has been months late in making payments to farmers for the rice they pledged to sell at above-market prices.
The commission said Yingluck has been called to formally hear the charges on Feb. 27. If it decides to submit the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck will immediately be suspended from performing her official duties pending a Senate trial.
Yingluck's elected government has been attempting to avoid violence to keep the powerful military from stepping in. Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Since then, his supporters and opponents have vied for power, sometimes violently.
Erawan emergency medical services said three civilians and a police officer died and 64 others were injured in Tuesday's clashes, including journalists covering the protests for a Hong Kong TV station and the Spanish news agency EFE.
The violence erupted after police moved into several locations around the city to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Yingluck's resignation. They want the formation of an unelected people's council to implement reforms to end corruption and remove the Shinawatra family from politics.
They have blocked access to government offices since late last year and occupied key intersections around Bangkok for about a month. Until now, the police had refrained from dispersing them for fear of unleashing violence.