BANGKOK, Thailand -- The authoritarian leader of an increasingly violent anti-government protest met Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Sunday (Dec. 1) and told her to resign so a dictatorial provisional regime could run Thailand and stop voters electing "bad politicians".

Hours earlier, the government advised Bangkok residents on Sunday (Dec. 1) to stay indoors overnight after three people died and police battled protesters, while mobs swarmed government ministries, TV stations and police headquarters, escalating their week-long clashes to topple the prime minister.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban "told the prime minister that dissolution of parliament, and her resignation paving the way for new election, could not resolve the underlying deep-rooted problem because bad politicians" could return to power, Thai Public Broadcasting Service (ThaiPBS) reported.

"He said the problem could be resolved only when she returned the power to 'the people' to form the 'people's council' [which could] appoint a 'people's government' to rule the country," the report said.

Suthep announced his ultimatum in a live TV broadcast at 10 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 1) night.

The surprise meeting by Yingluck with Suthep was accompanied by mecurial Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha who played a role in a bloodless 2006 coup against Yingluck's elder brother, then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The general appeared to be filling a power vacuum when earlier on Sunday (Dec. 1) he told police not to fire tear gas at protesters, urged demonstrators not to seize government buildings, and suggested Yingluck meet Suthep.

Three people died and 100 were injured from gunshots and beatings before dawn on Sunday (Dec. 1) when protesters fought government supporters near a stadium, medical officials said.

"After 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., if it is not necessary, we ask people to not leave their homes, for their safety, so they will not become victims of provocateurs," Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok said in a televised announcement on Sunday (Dec. 1) night.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refused demands to call an election, apparently confident that Thailand's U.S.-trained but poorly disciplined military supports her coalition.

Yingluck met security officials in a Bangkok police complex on Sunday (Dec. 1) morning, but evacuated to safety when hundreds of protesters stormed the complex's entrance before they were stopped -- apparently unaware she was inside -- according to her secretary, Wim Rungwattanajinda.

Yingluck, 46, appeared reluctant to use force to clear hundreds of protesters squatting at a several government ministries, because she does not want to provoke bloodshed.

Hundreds of protestors on Sunday (Dec. 1) hurled firecrackers and rocks at police who responded with tear gas and water cannons, stopping the mobs from attacking the prime minister's empty Government House office, which is ringed with barbed wire and barricades.

Other protestors intimidated several TV stations into broadcasting anti-government speeches and propaganda on Sunday (Dec. 1) night.

Protestors had mixed success with plans to lay siege on Sunday (Dec. 1) at Thailand's police headquarters and the ministries of foreign affairs, commerce, interior, labor, and education plus other official buildings.

The Finance Ministry and some other government offices however remained under the control of protestors through the weekend.

The protests are led by graying, tough-talking Suthep Thaugsuban (pronounced: "Soo-TEP Too-EK-soo-bahn"), a senior opposition Democrat Party politician.

In November, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged Suthep for alleged premeditated and attempted murders committed in 2010.

In 2010, when Suthep was deputy prime minister for security affairs, he allegedly ordered his Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) to unleash a military crackdown against an insurrection staged by pro-democracy Red Shirts, which left more than 90 people dead -- most of them civilians.

Suthep's current protest is backed by his former boss, the coy and elitist Abhisit Vejjajiva, who leads the Democrat Party.

The OAG also charged Abhisit in November for the same alleged premeditated and attempted murders committed in 2010, because Abhisit established the CRES when he was prime minister before losing a 2011 election to Yingluck.

The OAG said it would indict both men on Dec. 12.

Suthep and Abhisit deny all charges of wrongdoing.

During the past week, Suthep's supporters swarmed the Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) -- Thailand's version of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Protestors chained its doors on Saturday (Nov. 30) to prevent DSI officials from working after the department recommended the OAG indict Suthep and Abhisit.

Suthep, Abhisit and their Democrat Party candidates appear to be sore losers unable to defeat Yingluck's ruling Pheu Thai -- "For Thais" -- party and its coalition in nationwide elections.

The protesters want to oust Yingluck because they perceive her as a "puppet" of her self-exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose popular, wealthy political machine boosts Yingluck.

Suthep announced last week he would stop his protests if he could disband Thailand's democracy and become secretary-general of a right-wing politburo "people's council".

His council would "pick a good man to be the prime minister, good men to be ministers," Suthep said in a speech while occupying the Finance Ministry.

Suthep, 64, is backed by a right-wing militant Buddhist organization called the Dhamma Army, plus students, workers and others mostly from Bangkok's middle class.

Against them are supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, including the mostly lower-class Red Shirts who helped Yingluck win at the polls.

The Reds expect Yingluck and her authoritarian, billionaire brother to continue rewarding them with populist policies, including cheap credit, health care, and rice subsidies.

The protests highlight the rise of Thaksin and his family's "new money" backed by their wealthy cronies along with the grassroots Reds.

In some ways, they challenge the establishment's feudal, elitist, military, royalist, "old money".

But the opposing sides share similarities, making the clash partly a power grab by opportunistic rivals settling personal grudges and betrayals.

Thaksin, who won three elections, was prime minister from 2001-2006 when he was toppled in a bloodless military coup.

Thaksin's political tentacles now influence Yingluck's administration from afar.

Thaksin wants to return to Thailand, but is dodging a two-year jail sentence imposed by a post-coup court for a conflict of interest real estate deal involving his politically powerful former wife.

Thaksin also wants the return of $1.2 billion in cash and assets which another post-coup court seized because he profited from a tax-free telecommunications deal.

Yingluck's government recently tried but failed to arrange an "amnesty" to erase several years of politically-related criminal charges and convictions against Thaksin and others.

Her government also recently failed in its bid to amend the post-coup constitution which demands half the Senate be appointed in the bicameral Parliament, and limits elected politicians and grants vast powers to appointed judges.

This Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country is a non-NATO ally of the United States, and also enjoys good relations with China.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are:

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)