By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
UDON THANI, Thailand Jan 22 A leading
pro-government activist was shot and wounded on Wednesday in
Thailand's northeast, a stronghold of Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra, as a state of emergency began in the capital where
protesters are trying to force her from power.
The morning after the government issued the 60-day emergency
decree, an unidentified gunman opened fire with an AK47 assault
rifle on Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of Thailand's
pro-government "red shirt" movement and a popular radio DJ, as
he sat outside his home reading a newspaper.
The attack in Udon Thani, about 450 km (280 miles) northeast
of Bangkok, is the most significant violence outside the Thai
capital in nearly three months of anti-government protests and
illustrates the risk that the turbulence plaguing Bangkok could
spread to other areas of Thailand.
Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid
protest areas in Bangkok, among the world's most visited cities.
China called on Thailand to "restore stability and order as soon
as possible" through talks.
Police said they believed the shooting in Udon Thani was
Kwanchai leads thousands of red-shirted supporters in Udon
Thani, a province of about 1.6 million people in the heart of
the country's mostly poor "Isaan" region, a rugged northeastern
plateau that is home to a third of the country's population and
has staunchly backed Yingluck.
Just days earlier, he had warned of a nationwide "fight" if
the military launched a coup.
"From the way the assailants fired, they obviously didn't
want him to live," his wife, Arporn Sarakham, told Reuters.
Police said they had found 39 bullet cases at the house. The
gunman and a driver fled in a pickup truck.
On Tuesday, he told Reuters that if the military attempted a
coup: "I can assure you, on behalf of the 20 provinces in the
northeast, that we will fight. The country will be set alight if
the soldiers come out."
FEARS OF ELECTION DAY VIOLENCE
So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or
attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray.
The police are charged with imposing the state of emergency,
under orders from Yingluck to treat protesters against her
government with patience.
Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of
South East Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, said the emergency
decree was designed largely to give Yingluck legal protection if
there is violence and the police step in.
It gives security agencies powers to detain suspects, impose
a curfew and limit gatherings.
Nine people have died and dozens have been wounded in
violence, including two grenade attacks in the capital over the
weekend, since protesters took to the streets in November to
demand Yingluck step down and a "people's council" be set up to
bring sweeping reforms to Southeast Asia's second-biggest
The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict
that has gripped the country for eight years. It pits the middle
class of Bangkok and royalist establishment against the mainly
poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier
Thaksin Shinawatra, toppled by the military in 2006.
Yingluck called a snap election for Feb. 2 in the hope of
defusing the protests.
The Election Commission is worried it will fan the violence
and says the protests have prevented some candidates from
registering, meaning there will not be a quorum to open
parliament. It is asking the Constitutional Court to rule on
whether it can delay the vote.
"If it happens on Feb. 2, there will not be enough new MPs
for a new government to be formed anyway. Then Thailand would
move to a period of growing limbo where the anti-Thaksin
judiciary would decide on whether to void the election or not,"
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has rejected the election
outright. He accuses Thaksin of corruption and nepotism and
wants to change the electoral system to eradicate the influence
of Thaksin, who lives in exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term
handed down in 2008 for abuse of power.
His protest group issued a statement calling the emergency
decree a sign of the government's growing desperation.
Suthep, when he was a deputy prime minister, sent in troops
to end mass protests by pro-Thaksin supporters in 2010. More
than 90 people died in that unrest.
The crisis has hurt tourism and business confidence. But the
central bank, in unexpectedly positive comments, said it thought
the impact would only be short-term.
Adding to Yingluck's problems, farmers, who are part of her
core constituency, have threatened to join the protest if they
do not get paid for the rice they have sold to the government
under a controversial intervention scheme.
Her government guaranteed them an above-market price for
their rice but the scheme has run into funding difficulties.
The government has sold a bond and is seeking loans to tide
it over, but the Election Commission, which has to approve such
action by the caretaker government, has declined to give its