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Explosions, firing in Bangkok on eve of polls, 7 injured

Last Updated: Saturday, February 1, 2014 - 20:50

Bangkok: Explosions and shots rang out in the Thai capital today during clashes between opposition activists and government supporters, leaving seven persons injured on the eve of controversial snap polls that have polarised the country.

The political rivals clashed with pistols and assault rifles despite tight security arrangements to thwart the opposition`s attempts to scuttle the polling, including the deployment of over 2,00,000 security personnel.

Some 150 soldiers were deployed to assist police in handling clashes at Lak Si area in Bangkok, where pro-government "red shirts" marched to an office surrounded by opposition activists to block the distribution of ballots in a last ditch bid to derail the polls.

Two explosions, which police said were caused by Molotov cocktails, were heard before the firing began. The firing continued for nearly an hour and left six Thais, including a reporter, and American photojournalist James Nachtwey injured, the emergency services said.

People caught up in the violence sought refuge in a nearby mall and a covered pedestrian bridge, while others were seen hiding behind vehicles, Bangkok Post reported.

Journalists wear light-green armbands for safety but the anti-government People`s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has adopted similar bands. The Thai Journalists Association asked PDRC to change its colour so that reporters are not targeted.

Amid rising concern over the violence, authorities decided to provide extra security to key government and political figures, including embattled premier Yingluck Shinawatra, for the polling.

Police and army personnel will secure more than 93,000 polling stations nationwide. A total of 49 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the snap polls called by Yingluck to end months of political unrest.

The outcome of the poll is expected to be inconclusive as protesters blocked candidate registration in some districts last month. Speculation is rife that the army might intervene if the election leads to political limbo.

While voting is expected to go ahead in northern and northeastern provinces loyal to the ruling Pheu Thai Party, violent disruptions are likely in Bangkok and the south, the stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party.

Several polling stations in the south are yet to receive ballots. There are no candidates for 28 constituencies in eight southern provinces.

Protesters camped at post offices in Chumphon, Thung Song district in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai in Songkhla in southern Thailand to block the delivery of ballots.

Chalerm Yoobamrung, the director of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, said there could be violent clashes tomorrow, especially in the south. He said the Democrat Party should be held responsible for its moves to disrupt elections in the region.

Twenty-seven companies of soldiers will assist police in ensuring that people who want to vote can do so, said Chalerm, also the caretaker Labour Minister.

The CMPO would use its authority under an emergency decree to ensure smooth polling, he said referring to the 60-day emergency imposed last week in Bangkok and nearby areas to tackle political unrest that has wracked Thailand for nearly three months.

Unfazed by threats from political rivals to block the vote, Yingluck today rebutted the opposition Democrat Party`s claim that the election was "unconstitutional".

"What does unconstitutional mean? The 2007 charter, particularly the section on election regulations, was altered by the Democrat-led government, not this administration," she said.

Protesters blocked polling stations during advance voting last Sunday. They are calling for Yingluck to quit and make way for an unelected "People`s Council" to carry out reforms aimed at curbing the political dominance of the Shinawatra clan.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for her fugitive brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. Thaksin, a former premier, lives in self-exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term for graft.
Over 10 people have been killed and hundreds injured in violence linked to political unrest sparked by an amnesty bill that could have facilitated Thaksin`s return.

First Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 - 20:50

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