Thai protest leader shot dead

Agence France-Presse
(UPDATED) Suthin Tharathin was shot in the head while giving a speech from the back of a pick-up truck, protest spokesman Akanat Promphan said

PROTESTS CONTINUE. Thai anti-government protesters parade to surrounded polling station during a rally in Bangkok on January 26, 2014. Photo by Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP

BANGKOK, Thailand (UPDATED) – A Thai anti-government protest leader was shot dead Sunday, January 26, and several other people were injured as demonstrators blocked advance voting for a controversial general election.

“Suthin Tharathin was shot in the head while giving a speech from the back of a pick-up truck” in the Bangkok suburb of Bang Na, protest spokesman Akanat Promphan told Agence France-Presse.

“The government has failed to provide any safety and security for anybody today despite the emergency decree,” he said, referring to a government order empowering police to control protests. (READ: Protest-hit Thailand imposes emergency rule)

Bangkok’s Erawan emergency center confirmed one man had been killed and 9 injured in the shooting in the city suburbs, without giving further details.

Promphan accused a “pro-government mob” of carrying out the attack which killed Tharathin – a leader of the Dharma Army, a Buddhist organization which has been prominent in the demonstrations.

Police later said he died when a group of “Red Shirts” – government-supporting activists – from a neighboring province a few kilometers away clashed with protesters.

Hundreds of protesters earlier Sunday besieged polling stations in Bangkok and forced most to close, obstructing advance voting for next weekend’s election and deepening doubts about whether it can go ahead. (READ: Violence, protests blight advance voting for disputed poll)

The embattled government of Yingluck Shinawatra called the election for February 2 to try to calm months of street protests.

Demonstrators trying to topple her government fiercely oppose the snap election.

Suthin was the tenth person to be killed during nearly 3 months of rallies that have sparked international concern and investor fears over the country’s economy. Hundreds more have been wounded.

Each side in the bitterly divided kingdom blames the other for the violence.

Thailand’s recent history has been scarred by sporadic street unrest since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a military coup in 2006.

The most serious bloodshed was in 2010 when scores of pro-Thaksin Red Shirts were killed in an army crackdown. –