Explosions, firing in Bangkok on eve of polls, seven injured
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Last Updated: Saturday, February 01, 2014, 19:05
  
Bangkok: Explosions and several shots were heard in the Thai capital on Saturday as opposition activists bent on disrupting Sunday's controversial snap polls clashed with government supporters, leaving seven persons injured.

The political rivals clashed with pistols and assault rifles despite tight security put in place to thwart the opposition's attempts to scuttle the vote, including the deployment of over 2,00,000 security personnel.

Soldiers were reported to be moving into Lak Si area, where the clashes erupted, to assist police in controlling the situation.

Two explosions were heard in the area, which police said were caused by Molotov cocktails, 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 city's emergency services said.

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

Protesters marched in Bangkok and laid siege to a building where ballots were stored in a final bid to derail the polls and stop beleaguered premier Yingluck Shinawatra from returning to power.

A total of 49 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise. Police and army personnel will provide security at more than 93,000 polling stations nationwide.

Twenty-seven companies of soldiers will assist police in ensuring that people who want to vote can do so, said Chalerm Yubamrung, the director of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO).

The CMPO would use its authority under an emergency decree to ensure smooth polling, Chalerm, also the caretaker Labour Minister, said referring to the 60-day emergency imposed last week in Bangkok and nearby areas to tackle months of unrest.

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.

Yingluck asked people to trust the Election Commission (EC), which is responsible for free and fair polls.

Protesters have vowed to disrupt voting and block roads leading to polling stations tomorrow, raising doubts about the legitimacy of the snap polls called by the premier in a bid to end nearly three months of street rallies, sometimes violent.

Amid rising concerns over violence, authorities have decided to provide extra security to certain government and political figures, including Yingluck.

Ballot boxes have so far not reached election offices in many areas, particularly in the south, an opposition stronghold, due to a blockade by protesters.

The ongoing unrest, the latest flare up in Thailand's years of political crisis, has pitted Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party.

Last Sunday's advance poll also could not be conducted properly as protesters blocked polling stations in Bangkok. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for a peaceful blockade of roads.

"The people will not close the polling booths, but will demonstrate on the roads. They will demonstrate calmly, peacefully, without violence ... We won't do anything that will hinder people from going to vote," he said.

Protesters have been holding rallies across Bangkok and have blockaded major intersections for months, calling for Yingluck's government to 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.

PTI

First Published: Saturday, February 01, 2014, 19:01


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