Thai protester shot dead amid rising tensions in Bangkok
BANGKOK — Gunmen killed an anti-government activist and wounded two others in the Thai capital today (Dec 28) while protesters elsewhere blocked candidates from registering in upcoming elections, deepening a political crisis that threatens to derail democracy in this Southeast Asian nation.
The registration was suspended in four of the country’s 77 constituencies. All are in the south, a sign of the limited national appeal the protest movement seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra enjoys outside of Bangkok.
The events followed comments yesterday by the powerful army chief in which he declined to rule out the possibility of a coup in the country, which is Southeast Asia’s second largest economy and a popular tourist destination.
The long-running dispute between Thailand’s bitterly divided political factions flared anew last month after Ms Yingluck’s elected government tried to introduce an amnesty for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to enable him to return to Thailand and escape a jail term for corruption.
Ms Yingluck called early elections as a way of diffusing the crisis, but the protesters are demanding she resign and hand over power to an unelected council to carry out reforms. They are trying to disrupt the polls, which most people believe will give her a strong mandate thanks to strong support in the north and northeast of the country.
On Thursday, protesters tried to overrun a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on ballots. Masked protesters fired rocks from slingshots as they tried to break into the building to halt the process, while police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Two people, including a police officer, were shot dead.
The overnight attack took place close to a protest camp in the city centre, according to a government-run Erawan medical center. It said a 31-year man was killed by gunfire and two others wounded in the attack early this morning. Local media said unidentified gunmen opened fire on guards close to a protest camp before escaping into the night.
Hundreds of candidates today were registering for the polls.
But in four southern provinces, the process was stopped because protesters blocked the venues and local election officials wanted to avoid violence, said Mr Puchong Nutrawong, secretary general of the election commission. Registration continued in a fifth province — Surat Thani — despite protests there, he said.
“Our policy is to avoid any confrontation,” Mr Puchong said.