Thailand’s powerful military chief on Monday warned that the country will “collapse” as political violence escalated with attacks on anti-government rallies over the weekend that claimed the lives of three children.

A six-year-old girl died on Monday from bruising to the brain, the Ramathibodi Hospital said in a statement. Her brother died on Sunday from serious head wounds and internal bleeding.

A five-year-old girl was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in eastern Trat province late Saturday while a 40-year-old woman was the fourth casualty who died from severe injuries inflicted by a bomb blast over the weekend.

The escalating violence, the latest flare up in nearly four months’ crisis, fuelled speculation that the Army might once again roll out the tanks and step in to bring the country back from the brink of collapse.

But Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military option is not a solution to the crisis. “If we use the wrong means, or the full use of military force, how can we ensure that the situation will end peacefully?” he asked in a rare televised live speech.

“As days go by, there will be more violence until it cannot be controlled...If losses continue, the country will collapse for sure and nobody will win or lose,” he said.

He urged warring sides to hold talks to prevent further violence and said the Army is “never afraid of performing our duty” and “do not want to use force and weapons to unnecessarily fight with the Thai people”.

The Army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of democracy, including the removal of Thaksin Shinawatra, former premier and fugitive brother of premier’s Yingluck Shinawatra.

Police said an officer also died on Monday, nearly a week after being shot in the head in a gunbattle with protesters.

Six persons, including two officers, were killed in that incident in Bangkok’s historic heart.

Meanwhile, protesters heckled the premier in a central province of Thailand. They blew whistles and shouted on loud speakers why Ms. Yingluck was there on “holiday” while people continue to be killed in protest violence.

The premier, who was “undertaking official duties” outside Bangkok, has called on all sides to shun violence and denounced the violent incidents as “terrorist acts”.

“The violent incidents are terrorist acts for political gain without any regard for human lives. The government will not tolerate terrorism and has ordered a full investigation by authorities to find the culprits and bring them to justice without exception,” she said.

The attacks are the latest in political violence in Thailand which is witnessing anti-government protests by opposition backed demonstrators who want Ms. Yingluck to quit.

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