Seven people have been injured, one seriously, after gunmen opened fire on anti-government protesters in the Thai capital Bangkok.
It has heightened fears of more violence when protesters try to “shutdown” the city on Monday in their long-running bid to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
At a celebration to mark national Children’s Day on Saturday
Thailand’s army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said he feared an escalation in violence next week and urged all sides not to fight.
“We’re all Thais, we can think differently but we can’t kill each other. Please don’t use violence,” said Prayuth.
The turmoil is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that pits Bangkok’s middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.
The protesters accuse the Shinawatra family of corruption and nepotism. Yingluck called a snap election for February 2, but this failed to placate protesters, who want her government to resign to make way for an unelected people’s council to oversee political reform.
Many Thais believe the military will soon step in to break the political deadlock, especially if the protests turn violent, and rumours of an impending coup have intensified.
The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years, but it has tried to remain neutral this time.
The authorities say they will deploy more than 14,000 troops and police, including officers at the main airport, to maintain order in the streets.
Protesters led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban aim to paralyse Bangkok starting Monday for between 15 and 20 days.