Six people were wounded in front of a suburban shopping mall in
the north of Bangkok. Gunmen among the crowds were seen hiding their
weapons before backing away from the shooting.
Sporadic gunfire continued as the sun began to set, with masked men
openly firing handguns. Security forces fired warning shots in the
air with M-16s to allow at least a dozen protesters taking cover
under an elevated highway to escape.
"Authorities were able to control today's clashes quickly and the
situation has improved now," National Security Council chief
Paradorn Pattantabutr told Reuters.
It was not immediately clear whether those wounded were the
government's supporters or its opponents, some of whom want to block
ballotting in an election almost certain to return Prime Minister
Yingluck Shinawatra to power.
The violence came amid generally peaceful protests around Bangkok
and revived chilling memories of political unrest in 2010, when
supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother,
paralysed Bangkok to remove a government led by the Democrat Party.
More than 90 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded when
current protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, at the time a deputy prime
minister, sent in troops.
Saturday's attack took place in Bangkok's Laksi district, close to
the Don Muang airport, a stronghold of Yingluck's Puea Thai Party.
Her supporters had gathered to demand Sunday's ballot not be
Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in
politically related violence since late November.
The protesters took to the streets in November for the latest round
of an eight-year conflict broadly between Bangkok's middle class,
southern Thais and the royalist establishment against the mostly
rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006
Suthep has called for a peaceful blockade of roads, but at the same
time has vowed not to stop people voting.
"The people will not close the polling booths, but will demonstrate
on the roads. They will demonstrate calmly, peacefully, without
violence ... We won't do anything that will hinder people from going
to vote," Suthep said on Friday night.
Election Commission secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said the
commission has instructed staff to halt voting if there is rioting
or other violence.
"We don't want this election to be bloody. We can get every single
agency involved to make this election happen, but if there's blood,
what's the point?" Puchong told Reuters.
" ... If there is continued obstruction, I pray only that there is
no fighting and no coup."
The military has stayed firmly on the sidelines so far, in contrast
to the past. It has a history of having staged or attempted 18 coups
in 81 years of on-off democracy.
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Yingluck's party is bound to win the election, though without enough
members to achieve a quorum in parliament, guaranteeing further
stalemate, at best, even if the election passes off peacefully.
The Democrat Party is boycotting Sunday's poll and backs the
Election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn wrote on his Facebook
page about the possibility of the poll being voided altogether.
"After the February 2 vote, there will be people filing lawsuits for
the election to be voided immediately, citing various reasons that
they will put forward, such as the general election must be held on
one day or violate the constitution, which would make it likely that
3.8 billion baht ($115 million) will have been spent for nothing,"
Puchong said the commission was doing its best to adhere to the law
and any speculation about the vote being annulled was for the courts
The protesters, camped out at major intersections in the city and
blocking key arteries, forced polling stations in 49 of Bangkok's 50
districts to shut last weekend and voting could only go ahead in
three of 15 southern provinces. Some voters were physically pulled
away from the polling booths.
Suthep wants to rid the country of the Shinawatra family's political
influence and accuses Yingluck, who swept to power in the last
election in 2011, of being Thaksin's puppet.
The protesters say Thaksin is a corrupt crony capitalist who
commandeered Thailand's fragile democracy, using taxpayers' money to
buy votes with populist giveaways. Thaksin has chosen to live abroad
since 2008 to avoid a jail term for graft.
He or his allies have won every election since 2001. His supporters
say he was the first Thai political leader to keep campaign promises
to help the poor.
Suthep wants to set up a "people's council" of notable individuals
before another election is held.
The prolonged unrest has hurt tourism and the central bank says the
economy may grow only 3 percent this year, rather than the 4 percent
it had forecast.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat;
writing by Nick Macfie; editing by Kim Coghill)
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