Thai police yesterday fired tear gas and detained dozens of demonstrators as clashes erupted at the first major street protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government.
The violence, while relatively small scale, appeared to mark a new phase in Thailand's long-running political crisis pitting Thai royalists against ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- Yingluck's brother -- and his supporters.
About 17,000 police were deployed for the rally in Bangkok's historic district, which was organised by the royalist group Pitak Siam (Protecting Siam), a relatively new force in the kingdom's fractured political scene.
"In the name of Pitak Siam and its allies I promise that we will topple this government," the movement's head, retired general Boonlert Kaewprasit, declared from the rally stage.
But the estimated attendance of about 20,000 fell far short of the half a million organisers had hoped for, and by early evening as rain began to fall Boonlert called off the protest, which had been due to last until Sunday.
"I can't afford to lose even one life so I declare the rally over," he announced.
The demo comes two and a half years after 90 people died and about 1,900 were wounded in a military crackdown on "Red Shirt" protests in the heart of the capital against the previous government, which was replaced by Yingluck's administration last year.
Earlier yesterday tensions flared as police fired several rounds of tear gas at protesters trying to ram through barriers near the main rally site in the Royal Plaza using a truck.
"Tear gas was used in one area because protesters did not comply with the rules," said national police spokesman Major General Piya Uthayo.
About 100 protesters were detained while knives and bullets were confiscated, he said.
Forty-two people, including seven police officers, were treated for cuts and other injuries, officials said.