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Asia-pacific

Gunfire, explosions rock Thai capital ahead of controversial poll

© AFP

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-01

Gunfire and explosions rang out in Thailand’s capital Bangkok on Saturday as clashes between supporters and opponents of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government intensified on the eve of a contested general election.

At least six people were injured after gunmen opened fire in front of a busy shopping mall and two explosions were heard. The Associated Press also reported that an American photojournalist had been shot in the leg in the unrest.

“One victim was apparently shot in the chest and was hospitalised,” an official from the city’s Erawan emergency centre said, adding that two others had also been taken to hospital.

The violence comes a day ahead of a controversial poll that was called by Shinawatra in December to try to diffuse the political crisis which erupted after her party tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed her corruption-accused brother, former premier Thaksin, to return from exile. She also dissolved the parliament, but to no avail as the protests only intensified.

Since late November, ten people have died and nearly 600 have been wounded in politically related violence.

Anti-government protesters want 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.

Fighting at the ballots

Saturday’s confrontation began after a group of pro-government supporters marched to a district office in northern Bangkok containing ballot boxes that had been surrounded by protesters who have been trying to derail the vote.

Last weekend, anti-government activists forced polling stations in 49 of Bangkok’s 50 districts to shut and voting could only go ahead in three of 15 southern provinces. Some voters were physically pulled away from the polling booths.

The protesters, a minority that cannot win power at the polls, are demanding the government be replaced by an unelected council that would implement political and electoral reforms to combat deep-seated problems of corruption and money politics. Yingluck has refused to step down, arguing she is open to reform and such a council would be unconstitutional.

Whatever happens, the outcome of Sunday’s election will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters have already blocked candidate registration in some districts, Parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means Yingluck will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told media that: “people know that Thaksin and Yingluck want to use the election to their advantage to make them look innocent.”

The Democrat Party is boycotting Sunday’s poll and backs the protests.

Vote could be halted

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 said.

Although Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and has lived in exile since 2008, he has remained a central — and highly polarizing — figure in Thailand’s political strife. The rural majority in the north adore him for his populist policies, such as virtually free health care, while Bangkok’s elite and many in the south consider him and his family a corrupting influence on the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
 

Date created : 2014-02-01

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