Bangkok: Drive-by gunmen sprayed bullets at a coffee shop outside the offices of Thailand’s opposition Democrat party headquarters early on Monday after anti-government protesters blocked major intersections of the capital hours earlier.
The protesters have vowed to “shut down” Bangkok for days in an effort to prevent elections being held on February 2 and to topple the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, raising fears of violence that could trigger a coup.
The protesters plan to march to key government offices later on Monday where they say they will cut water and electricity supplies.
No-one was injured in the shooting outside the Democrat party office, one of a pattern of middle-of-the-night attacks by unidentified men on motor cycles.
At least eight people have died in violence linked to two months of political unrest.
Thai authorities, worried that foreign tourists arriving in Bangkok will be unable to reach their hotels, have issued stickers for taxis carrying passengers from the main Suvarnabhumi airport, hoping protesters will let them pass through the street blockades.
The protesters say will allow emergency vehicles and so-called “friendly taxis” to pass.
But airport authorities warned travellers they will face difficulties getting to and from the airport unless they take the train.
Thousands of security forces made no attempt to prevent demonstrators setting up huge stages and defensive barriers at key locations across the city on Sunday night, including outside malls frequented by tourists.
Police also have not acted on warrants to arrest protest leaders for treason but say they will move to prevent violent clashes between rival groups and to protect government buildings.
Unarmed troops have been deployed to protect government services such as water and electricity and television and radio stations.
As the United States embassy in Bangkok recommended residents stockpile two weeks of cash, food and water, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha earlier said he was concerned about the possibility of violent clashes and admitted he does not see a solution to end the country’s crisis.
But General Prayuth asked the media to stop asking him if the powerful military, which has intervened to overthrow governments in the past, plans to stage a coup.
“A coup is not a topic that we should be talking about every day...I don’t know what the solution is but we soldiers will do our best to ensure safety for the people,” he said.
General Prayuth last month refused to rule out a coup.
The protesters have arrived at the blockade sites with bedding.
“Bring your clothes and food with you, because we will fight for months until we achieve victory,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban earlier told supporters.
The turmoil is the latest in an eight-year conflict that in broads terms pits middle class urban Thais and those from opposition strongholds in southern provinces with mostly poorer rural government supporters.
Mr Suthep, a former deputy prime minister in the former military-backed government, has refused to negotiate with government representatives, insisting Ms Yingluck must resign and a so-called non-elected “people’s council” be set-up to discuss reforms and run the country.
He told Bangkok Nation newspaper at the weekend he wants to see a peaceful “people’s revolution” but said he would retreat if serious violence erupts.
“If it becomes a civil war, I will give up. People’s life is precious for me,” he said.
Mr Suthep, who has been charged with treason but police have not executed a warrant for his arrest, said “I am pretty sure today that we won’t lose the fight – I just don’t know how we will win.”
Mr Yingluck has called a snap election for February 2 to try to end the crisis that was prompted by a failed attempt in September to introduce an amnesty bill in parliament that would have allowed her brother Thaksin Shinawatra to return from exile without having to serve a two year jail sentence for corruption.
Offers she has made to set-up a reform body and call another election within 12 months have been rebuffed by Mr Suthep who also refused to speak with representatives of Thaksin at the weekend.
The Democrat party, the main opposition, is boycotting the election which the organising Election Commission has recommended should be delayed after protesters in some areas prevented candidates from registering.
The protesters accuse Ms Yingluck of being a puppet of Thaksin, a former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
They accuse the Shinawatra family of endemic corruption which Ms Yingluck denies.