The morning after the government issued the 60-day emergency
decree, an unidentified gunman opened fire with an AK47 assault
rifle on Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of Thailand's pro-government
"red shirt" movement and a popular radio DJ, as he sat outside his
home reading a newspaper.
The attack in Udon Thani, about 450 km (280 miles) northeast of
Bangkok, is the most significant violence outside the Thai capital
in nearly three months of anti-government protests and illustrates
the risk that the turbulence plaguing Bangkok could spread to other
areas of Thailand.
Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid protest
areas in Bangkok, among the world's most visited cities. China
called on Thailand to "restore stability and order as soon as
possible" through talks.
Police said they believed the shooting in Udon Thani was politically
Kwanchai leads thousands of red-shirted supporters in Udon Thani, a
province of about 1.6 million people in the heart of the country's
mostly poor "Isaan" region, a rugged northeastern plateau that is
home to a third of the country's population and has staunchly backed
Just days earlier, he had warned of a nationwide "fight" if the
military launched a coup.
"From the way the assailants fired, they obviously didn't want him
to live," his wife, Arporn Sarakham, told Reuters. Police said they
had found 39 bullet cases at the house. The gunman and a driver fled
in a pickup truck.
On Tuesday, he told Reuters that if the military attempted a coup:
"I can assure you, on behalf of the 20 provinces in the northeast,
that we will fight. The country will be set alight if the soldiers
FEARS OF ELECTION DAY VIOLENCE
So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or
attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray. The
police are charged with imposing the state of emergency, under
orders from Yingluck to treat protesters against her government with
Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East
Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, said the emergency decree was designed
largely to give Yingluck legal protection if there is violence and
the police step in.
It gives security agencies powers to detain suspects, impose a
curfew and limit gatherings.
Nine people have died and dozens have been wounded in violence,
including two grenade attacks in the capital over the weekend, since
protesters took to the streets in November to demand Yingluck step
down and a "people's council" be set up to bring sweeping reforms to
Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.
The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that
has gripped the country for eight years. It pits the middle class of
Bangkok and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer
supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin
Shinawatra, toppled by the military in 2006.
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Yingluck called a snap election for February 2 in the hope of
defusing the protests.
The Election Commission is worried it will fan the violence and says
the protests have prevented some candidates from registering,
meaning there will not be a quorum to open parliament. It is asking
the Constitutional Court to rule on whether it can delay the vote.
"If it happens on February 2, there will not be enough new MPs for a
new government to be formed anyway. Then Thailand would move to a
period of growing limbo where the anti-Thaksin judiciary would
decide on whether to void the election or not," Chambers said.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has rejected the election outright.
He accuses Thaksin of corruption and nepotism and wants to change
the electoral system to eradicate the influence of Thaksin, who
lives in exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term handed down in 2008 for
abuse of power.
His protest group issued a statement calling the emergency decree a
sign of the government's growing desperation.
Suthep, when he was a deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end
mass protests by pro-Thaksin supporters in 2010. More than 90 people
died in that unrest.
The crisis has hurt tourism and business confidence. But the central
bank, in unexpectedly positive comments, said it thought the impact
would only be short-term.
Adding to Yingluck's problems, farmers, who are part of her core
constituency, have threatened to join the protest if they do not get
paid for the rice they have sold to the government under a
controversial intervention scheme.
Her government guaranteed them an above-market price for their rice
but the scheme has run into funding difficulties.
The government has sold a bond and is seeking loans to tide it over,
but the Election Commission, which has to approve such action by the
caretaker government, has declined to give its support.
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Panarat
Thepgumpanat in Bangkok; writing by Alan Raybould and Jonathan
Thatcher. editing by Jason Szep)
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