Thai protest leader shot dead in Bangkok
Bangkok, January 26, 2014
A man identified by police as one of the leaders of anti-government protests in Thailand was shot dead on Sunday when violence erupted as demonstrators in Bangkok blocked early voting in many areas for an election next week.
Piya Utayo, a spokesman for Thailand's national police, identified the dead man as Suthin Taratin, one of the protest leaders. "At least five other people were injured," he said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the February 2 election in an attempt to defuse protests that have dragged on since November and which have sometimes flared into violence. At least 10 people have been killed and scores wounded.
A senior government official said earlier on Sunday that as many as 45 of the 50 polling stations in Bangkok had been shut as protesters swarmed the centres in what shaped as another blow for the embattled Yingluck. Early voting was also disrupted in 10 of Thailand's 76 provinces.
Bangkok police said clashes had broken out between anti-government protesters and Yingluck supporters, with the two sides trading punches before shots were fired. Hospital officials said 11 people were hurt in the clashes in Bangkok's Bang Na district.
It was not immediately clear who had fired the shots but the protesters accused the government and police of trying to intimidate them.
"Suthin was shot in the head ... The government has allowed thugs to use weapons," Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protesters, told reporters.
Sunday's violence, the worst in a month, came after a state of emergency came into effect on Wednesday and casts further doubt over the election.
The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that has gripped Thailand for eight years and which is starting to hurt growth and investor confidence in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.
The conflict broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and elite, and followers in the south, against mainly poor rural backers of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in the populous north and northeast.
The protesters, led by firebrand former premier Suthep Thaugsuban, accuse Yingluck of being Thaksin's puppet and want an unelected 'people's council" to oversee reform before any future election is held. -Reuters