Thailand police seeking protesters in shooting of officer

BANGKOK (AP) — Police in Thailand said Thursday they are seeking four suspects in connection with the shooting of a policeman in the head during a violent street protest in Bangkok.

The Wednesday night incident, in which the policeman was badly injured, was a major escalation in a series of wild melees that began several months ago between police and militant anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. It was the first time a policeman has been shot.

On most evenings, hardcore protesters turn the city’s Din Daeng neighborhood, where a major expressway starts, into a battleground. They burn tires and throw fireworks, among other objects, at the police, who respond with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Both sides have suffered injuries.

The protests are an offshoot of a pro-democracy movement that began in early 2020 against Prayuth’s government, which it says is undemocratic, and the underlying political system, particularly a military-imposed constitution, that it considers unfair.

The movement peaked in late 2020, holding rallies that attracted tens of thousands of people, but lost steam as coronavirus cases hit record levels.

The economic damage caused by the pandemic prompted the protesters to shift their emphasis away from political reforms to more widely held criticism of the Prayuth administration’s handling of the virus.

The spin-off groups that have battled police appear to be mostly young people from working and lower-middle classes who have suffered the most from the economic downturn. The confrontations have generally been in lower-income areas where they hold some tactical advantage and sympathy.

Police Maj. Gen. Jirasan Kaewsangeak, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said 73 people, including 21 minors, were arrested in connection with Wednesday’s violence. Police seized weapons including explosive devices, he said.

Jirasan said police were searching for four suspects linked to the shooting of the police officer, who is unconscious and on a respirator in a hospital ICU, but out of danger.

The shooting occurred when the police, who had been sparring with the protesters for hours, sought to disperse them at 10 p.m., when a coronavirus curfew comes into effect.

As police chased the protesters, Lance Corp. Detwit Ledtenson was shot in his left temple through his helmet, Jirasan said.

A special police task force searched nearby housing complexes but failed to apprehend the suspects. Jirasan said police believe four people were jointly responsible for the shooting.

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