Thai police clash with protesters at poll venue

Agence France-Presse

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Thai police fire tear gas as violent clashes break out with opposition protesters who stormed a sports stadium in the capital to try to prevent political parties registering for elections

GASSED. A Thai anti government protester holds a national flag during a rally at a stadium to register party-list candidates in Bangkok on December 26, 2013. AFP / Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thai police fired tear gas Thursday, December 26, as violent clashes broke out with opposition protesters who stormed a sports stadium in the capital to try to prevent political parties registering for elections.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has faced weeks of mass street rallies seeking to curb her family’s political dominance and install an unelected “people’s council” to oversee electoral reforms.

Demonstrators used a truck to smash through the gates of a stadium where representatives of about 30 political parties were gathered for a draw to allocate each party a number to be used on the ballot sheets in the February 2 elections, officials said.

“Protesters are not peaceful and unarmed as they claimed,” deputy prime minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said in a televised address.

“They are intimidating officials and trespassing in government buildings.”

One member of the security forces suffered a gunshot wound in the clashes, according to Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri.

“A police officer was shot in his arm by a bullet fired by the other side,” he told Agence France-Presse.

He said about 1,000 police officers had been deployed at the stadium to restore order.

Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as premier in a military coup in 2006.

The political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and elite against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin, who lives in self-exile.

The protesters accuse the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician of corruption and say he controls his sister’s government from his base in Dubai.

An election official said the draw was completed despite the violence, which followed a lull in tensions since clashes in early December between police and protesters trying to break into the government headquarters.

The unrest has left five people dead and more than 200 wounded.

It is the worst civil strife since 2010, when more than 90 civilians were killed in a bloody military crackdown on opposition protests against the previous government.

Yingluck has called a snap election for February 2 to try to resolve the deadlock, but the main opposition Democrat Party – which has not won an elected majority in about two decades – has vowed to boycott the vote.

The demonstrators have vowed to keep up their campaign to disrupt the polls, with protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban threatening to “shut down the country” to prevent people voting.

A second round of registrations for constituency candidates is due to begin at venues around the country on Saturday.

Yingluck’s Puea Thai party said it planned to field candidates in all constituencies, despite the prospect of further attempts by the opposition to disrupt the process, particularly in its southern strongholds.

“If there is a problem we have to fight,” Puea Thai leader Jarupong Ruangsuwan told Agence France-Presse.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, most recently with a landslide victory under Yingluck two years ago.

The protesters want loosely-defined reforms – such as an end to alleged “vote buying” – before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.

Critics argue that the planned changes are only aimed at ending the opposition’s losing streak.

Yingluck on Wednesday, December 25, proposed a “national reform council” made up of 499 representatives from various sectors to recommend constitutional amendments and economic and legal reforms, as well as anti-corruption measures.

But the protesters quickly rejected the idea, urging her to step down. –

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