But General Anupong also repeated his pledge not to stage a coup, having said previously that it would not solve any of the country's political problems.

The army was criticised for having installed an incompetent interim government after the 2006 coup in which it ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, Somchai's brother-in-law.

Riot police fired tear gas to clear the streets after thousands of protesters tried to blockade parliament to prevent Somchai from delivering a policy statement last week.

Three protesters were killed and more than 400 people, mostly protesters, were injured in the ensuing clashes, with several having their limbs and feet blown off.

Forensic investigators say that the police used tear gas that was "potentially highly damaging" and could "cause death and injuries".

Fresh protests

On Friday, thousands of anti-government protesters blocked traffic on the busy streets of Bangkok, demanding the prime minister's resignation.

Some demonstrators at that protest carried guns, iron rods, slingshots and rocks, and rioters torched parked cars, trucks and vans.

Some held up posters with photos of Somchai and the police chief with the word "murderer" written beneath them.

Protesters took to the streets again on Friday [AFP]
Somchai, who assumed power last month, has since been struggling to contain long-running anti-government protests.

Thailand has seen months of mounting political tensions since late May, when demonstrators from the PAD - a loose coalition of businessmen, academics and activists - launched their campaign to overthrow the elected government.
 
In early August PAD supporters moved to occupy the grounds of Government House, the prime minister's offices in the centre of Bangkok close to the parliament building.

The protests have virtually paralysed the government and forced Somchai to operate out of a makeshift office at Bangkok's old international airport.
 
The protesters' original aim had been to oust the then prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, whom they accused of being a puppet of Thaksin.

Samak was order by a court to step down last month for hosting a cooking show after taking office as prime minister.

But the demonstrators have also rejected his replacement, Somchai.

The mostly middle-class protesters who back the PAD say they will continue to protest as long as any party associated with Thaksin is in power.