Thai anti-government protester killed, adds to doubts over election

BANGKOK Sun Jan 26, 2014 3:37pm EST

1 of 15. A Bangkok district officer stands inside the compound of a polling station in central Bangkok January 26, 2014. Thai authorities told anti-government protesters on Saturday to stop blockading official buildings and not to interfere in early voting in a general election on Sunday, but promised not to use violence to clear Bangkok streets.

Credit: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai anti-government protest leader was shot and killed in Bangkok on Sunday when violence erupted as demonstrators blocked early voting in many areas of the capital ahead of a disputed election next week.

It brings the death toll to 10, with scores wounded, since protesters took to the streets in November, vowing to shut down the capital and force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office.

A spokesman for the national police, Piya Utayo, identified the dead man as Suthin Tharatin, one of the protest leaders. "Suthin was shot in the head and in the chest," he said.

Yingluck called the February 2 election, hoping to cement her hold on power but the protests have continued and the Election Commission has been pushing to delay the vote.

In a clear setback for Yingluck, a senior government official said that as many as 45 of the 50 polling stations set up in Bangkok for advanced voting had been shut because of anti-government protesters.

Bangkok police said clashes had broken out between anti-government protesters and Yingluck supporters, with the two sides trading punches before shots were fired. The Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals, said 11 people were hurt in the clashes in the 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.

"The government has allowed thugs to use weapons," Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protesters, told reporters. Private gun ownership is widespread in the country.

The violence, the worst in a month, came after a state of emergency took effect on Wednesday and adds to doubts over whether the February 2 election can go ahead.

Chris Baker, a historian and Bangkok-based analyst, said the violence added pressure on Yingluck to delay the vote.

"It does weaken the government's position. The protesters will blame this on the government," said Baker. "With or without this incident the likelihood for violence was there already. I don't think it changes in the trajectory."

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 protests mark the biggest demonstrations since deadly political unrest in April-May 2010, when Thaksin's "red-shirt" supporters paralysed Bangkok to remove a government led by the Democrat Party, now in opposition. More than 90 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured in that unrest.

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.

INTRACTABLE DIFFERENCES

On Saturday, a government minister said Yingluck was prepared to discuss cancelling the February 2 election if the activists ended their protests.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, also a deputy prime minister, said in a televised address the blocking of advance voting was "a serious offence" and said protesters had used force to prevent people voting.

Yingluck's government had already warned anyone who tried to stop voting would be jailed or fined.

City officials said they had begun negotiating with the protesters. "We have to negotiate with them and let them know that blocking the election is illegal," said Luckana Rojjanawong, a Bangkok district official said.

The election was already in doubt after a Constitutional Court ruling on Friday that opened the possibility of a delay. The Election Commission is seeking the delay, arguing that the current environment is too unsettled.

The protesters say Thaksin's powerful political machine has subverted Thailand's fragile democracy by effectively buying the support of rural voters with populist policies such as cheap healthcare and subsidies for rice farmers.

Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs in northern Chiang Mai, said before the violence began that the disruption of advance polling would add impetus to the calls for an election delay.

"The ability of those against advance voting to keep it from happening today could signal what may come next week - a decision to delay the vote due to an inability to hold the election properly," Chambers said.

Yingluck, who would probably win the election easily, is set to meet Election Commission officials on Tuesday. The Democrat Party also plans to boycott the election.

About 49 million voters out of Thailand's population of 66 million are eligible to cast ballots, with about 2.16 million registered for early polling.

Yingluck's government had been proceeding relatively smoothly until her Puea Thai Party miscalculated in November and tried to force through an amnesty bill that would have allowed her brother to return a free man despite a 2008 graft conviction he says was politically motivated.

Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon, was ousted by the military in 2006.

(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Jutarat Skulpichetrat; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Ron Popeski)

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Comments (6)
Opal.z wrote:
Thailand is a truly wonderful country that has so much to offer its’ citizens and the world. It has enjoyed peace for so long and never been forced to fight for freedom from an imperial power, as have so many countries in South East Asia; even America fought a war of independence. Mahatma Ghandi’s fight for the freedom of India is a shining example of the power of peaceful protests.

It could, however, be argued that the Thaksin regime is in many ways similar to being colonized. Since assuming power in 2001 his authoritarian governance has eroded the peoples’ freedom and made them rely on the state. An indicator of this is illustrated by the watchdog “Freedom House” who classifies Thailand as a “partly free” country. Corruption has also increased dramatically; in 2010, before Yingluck became Prime Minister “Transparency International” rated Thailand 78th out of 178 countries, in 2013 it dropped to 102nd out of 177 countries.

Like Thailand, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. After coming out of recession in his introduction to the 2013 Queen’s Speech Prime Minister David Cameron stated “We know that Britain can be great again because we’ve got the people to do it. Today’s Queen’s Speech shows that we will back them every step of the way. It is all about backing people who work hard and want to get on in life”. That is the positive attitude towards its people that Thailand should adopt.

Yingluck is all too ready to seek sympathy for herself and her family for being “victimized”. She has not once showed remorse for the victims of violence perpetrated against the protestors who have demonstrated through “civil disobedience” peacefully. She has not served her people, she has only served her cronies.

We voted our representatives into Parliament, but since they have abused us and exceeded their authority the people are peacefully standing for their rights by direct democracy, which is an accepted practice in all civilized societies. Win or lose things have gone too far to ignore. The protests are not an argument between the Puea Thai and the Democrat parties, the protestors align themselves to no political party. It is a protest by the people against all corrupt politicians.

The mass of the Thai people have had enough of hollow promises made by corrupt politicians of any party; they will no longer tolerate undeliverable populist policies that cripple the country. Thai people have awoken and will take back control of their country.

To better understand the reason for the protests, I would recommend reading Mr Dave Sherman’s excellent article in The Guardian entitled: ” No, Thailand’s protesters don’t want ‘less democracy’ “.

Jan 27, 2014 2:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
Opal.z wrote:
Thailand is a truly wonderful country that has so much to offer its’ citizens and the world. It has enjoyed peace for so long and never been forced to fight for freedom from an imperial power, as have so many countries in South East Asia; even America fought a war of independence. Mahatma Ghandi’s fight for the freedom of India is a shining example of the power of peaceful protests.

It could, however, be argued that the Thaksin regime is in many ways similar to being colonized. Since assuming power in 2001 his authoritarian governance has eroded the peoples’ freedom and made them rely on the state. An indicator of this is illustrated by the watchdog “Freedom House” who classifies Thailand as a “partly free” country. Corruption has also increased dramatically; in 2010, before Yingluck became Prime Minister “Transparency International” rated Thailand 78th out of 178 countries, in 2013 it dropped to 102nd out of 177 countries.

Like Thailand, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. After coming out of recession in his introduction to the 2013 Queen’s Speech Prime Minister David Cameron stated “We know that Britain can be great again because we’ve got the people to do it. Today’s Queen’s Speech shows that we will back them every step of the way. It is all about backing people who work hard and want to get on in life”. That is the positive attitude towards its people that Thailand should adopt.

Yingluck is all too ready to seek sympathy for herself and her family for being “victimized”. She has not once showed remorse for the victims of violence perpetrated against the protestors who have demonstrated through “civil disobedience” peacefully. She has not served her people, she has only served her cronies.

We voted our representatives into Parliament, but since they have abused us and exceeded their authority the people are peacefully standing for their rights by direct democracy, which is an accepted practice in all civilized societies. Win or lose things have gone too far to ignore. The protests are not an argument between the Puea Thai and the Democrat parties, the protestors align themselves to no political party. It is a protest by the people against all corrupt politicians.

The mass of the Thai people have had enough of hollow promises made by corrupt politicians of any party; they will no longer tolerate undeliverable populist policies that cripple the country. Thai people have awoken and will take back control of their country.

To better understand the reason for the protests, I would recommend reading Mr Dave Sherman’s excellent article in The Guardian entitled: ” No, Thailand’s protesters don’t want ‘less democracy’ “.

Jan 27, 2014 2:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
Opal.z wrote:
Thailand is a truly wonderful country that has so much to offer its’ citizens and the world. It has enjoyed peace for so long and never been forced to fight for freedom from an imperial power, as have so many countries in South East Asia; even America fought a war of independence. Mahatma Ghandi’s fight for the freedom of India is a shining example of the power of peaceful protests.

It could, however, be argued that the Thaksin regime is in many ways similar to being colonized. Since assuming power in 2001 his authoritarian governance has eroded the peoples’ freedom and made them rely on the state. An indicator of this is illustrated by the watchdog “Freedom House” who classifies Thailand as a “partly free” country. Corruption has also increased dramatically; in 2010, before Yingluck became Prime Minister “Transparency International” rated Thailand 78th out of 178 countries, in 2013 it dropped to 102nd out of 177 countries.

Like Thailand, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. After coming out of recession in his introduction to the 2013 Queen’s Speech Prime Minister David Cameron stated “We know that Britain can be great again because we’ve got the people to do it. Today’s Queen’s Speech shows that we will back them every step of the way. It is all about backing people who work hard and want to get on in life”. That is the positive attitude towards its people that Thailand should adopt.

Yingluck is all too ready to seek sympathy for herself and her family for being “victimized”. She has not once showed remorse for the victims of violence perpetrated against the protestors who have demonstrated through “civil disobedience” peacefully. She has not served her people, she has only served her cronies.

We voted our representatives into Parliament, but since they have abused us and exceeded their authority the people are peacefully standing for their rights by direct democracy, which is an accepted practice in all civilized societies. Win or lose things have gone too far to ignore. The protests are not an argument between the Puea Thai and the Democrat parties, the protestors align themselves to no political party. It is a protest by the people against all corrupt politicians.

The mass of the Thai people have had enough of hollow promises made by corrupt politicians of any party; they will no longer tolerate undeliverable populist policies that cripple the country. Thai people have awoken and will take back control of their country.

To better understand the reason for the protests, I would recommend reading Mr Dave Sherman’s excellent article in The Guardian entitled: ” No, Thailand’s protesters don’t want ‘less democracy’ “.

Jan 27, 2014 2:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
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