Updated at 09:26 p.m EST on Tuesday.
Tensions on the streets of Bangkok boiled over Tuesday as police sought to disperse several protest camps in the capital, resulting in at least 70 people injured and five deaths, including that of one police officer.
“One policeman was shot dead and four injured,” Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri told the AFP.
Tuesday’s violence erupted as the Thai police kicked off an operation to dismantle five protest camps established by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) at several key points in the city.
Earlier in the morning, the police were able to peacefully clear a site at the Energy Ministry where more than 140 protesters were arrested. However, more resistance was encountered downtown.
Guns and grenade launchers were reportedly brandished near Phan Fah bridge in front of Bangkok’s U.N. compound where protesters were massed. Shortly before noon, police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, but were met with gunshots and grenades from beyond the barricades.
Erawan emergency medical services confirmed early Wednesday that five people had died in the violence. They were identified as Supoj Boonrung, 52, Pol Sen Sgt Maj Pianchai Parawat, Thanusak Tatanakot, Sattha Saedan and Jirapong Chuichai.
According to Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch, unidentified armed forces within the protest camp fired a military grade M-79 grenade launcher.
“This contradicts the pledges from [PDRC chief] Suthep [Thaugsuban] and other protest leaders that resistance to the government will be peaceful and unarmed,” he said. “Each time there was major confrontation, we see armed groups that operate in tandem with protesters.”
Protesters have taken to the streets of Bangkok for three months to demand that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resigns and certain reforms are instigated. They want to purge Thailand of the influence of her divisive brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who they claim continues to run the country by proxy.
The boycott of snap elections called by Yingluck earlier this month by the opposition Democrat Party, combined with the blatant obstruction of the electoral process by their PDRC backers, has prevented a new government from forming and kept the country deadlocked in political crisis.