THAILAND

Several injured in Bangkok protest shooting

AFP

At least seven people were wounded after gunmen opened fire on an anti-government rally in Bangkok on Saturday, heightening tensions ahead of a planned city-wide "shutdown" by protesters.

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"Two shootouts occurred in the early hours of this morning at an intersection near the Khao San Road tourist area. Altogether seven people were injured, most of them anti-government protesters. We are still investigating who the gunmen were," said national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew.

One of the injured protesters remains in a critical condition, according to the Erawan Medical Center which monitors Bangkok hospitals.

The incident follows clashes between government supporters and protesters on Friday outside Bangkok that left at least six people injured.

The kingdom is in the grip of a political crisis that has led to parliament being dissolved amid mass protests to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and end the influence on Thai politics of her wildly divisive brother, Thaksin.

The protesters accuse the Shinawatra family of corruption and nepotism and want Yingluck to resign immediately.

They are also seeking to block a snap election called for February 2.

'Shutdown'

Protesters led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban aim to paralyse Bangkok starting Monday for between 15 and 20 days. They plan to block seven main intersections, causing gridlock in a city clogged with traffic at the best of times, and say they could block other areas as part of their prolonged siege of the city.

Paralysing Bangkok is the latest bid in a two-month attempt by protesters to topple Yingluck.

Authorities have raised fears that a planned "shutdown" could lead to more violence.

"I am concerned about security because there will be many people. The violence is increasing," said Thailand's army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha on Saturday.

"I want to tell all sides not to clash with each other... we are all Thais and we can live together despite our differences," he said.

"We can think differently but we cannot kill each other. Please don't use violence."

Coup fears mount

Many Thais believe the military will soon step in to break the political deadlock, especially if the protests turn violent, and rumours of an impending coup have intensified.

The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years, but it has tried to remain neutral this time.

The authorities say they will deploy more than 14,000 troops and police on Monday, including police at the main airport, to maintain order in the streets.

The government has repeatedly played down talk of a military intervention but officials said on Friday it had a plan to counter a coup if there was one.

"I don't think any coup will happen... this Monday the army and the police will take care of the (security) situation," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told foreign media on Friday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a news conference in New York on Friday urged all sides to show restraint as Thailand's latest round of protests gathered pace. "I am very concerned that the situation could escalate in the days ahead," Ban said.

"I urge all involved to show restraint, avoid provocative acts and settle their differences peacefully, through dialogue."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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