Thailand suffered its worst political violence in more than 16 years as police battled protesters who besieged the Parliament on Tuesday in their struggle to change the country's system of democracy. One woman died, and more than 400 people were injured.
The army moved into the streets of the capital, Bangkok, 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 Aug. 26.
The violence heightened the political uncertainty that has bedeviled Thailand since early 2006, when large protests called for Thaksin Shinawatra to step down for alleged corruption and abuse of power.
A September 2006 coup ousted Thaksin, but a military-appointed interim government proved incompetent and scared away foreign investors.
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Thaksin's political allies were restored to power by a December 2007 election, serving only to deepen the split between his rural majority supporters and urban-based opponents, who have made it difficult for the government to function. The problems stayed at a boil when Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, became prime minister.
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; and Thailand's great unifying figure, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is 80, raising great concern about how the nation will cope with the eventual succession to the throne.
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-energize them and possibly force another coup.
On Tuesday, the prime minister rebuffed the protesters' demands to step down. “I came in to do my job, so I will not quit working,” Somchai said.