Shooting, protests mar Thai voting

Shooting, protests mar Thai voting

A Thai anti-government protest leader was shot dead as demonstrators besieged polling stations in Bangkok and forced most to close, hampering advance voting for next weekend’s disputed election.

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More than two million people are registered for advance voting before the February 2 election, which was called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to try to defuse rising political tensions after weeks of mass anti-government protests.

Protesters descended on scores of polling stations in the Thai capital and several southern provinces, stopping ballot officials entering and prompting election authorities to shut at least 45 venues.

As the disrupted polls closed on Sunday afternoon a leader of the anti-government rallies was gunned down while he gave a speech from the back of a pick-up truck in a Bangkok suburb.

Nine other people were injured in the shooting, according to the city’s Erawan emergency centre.

“The government has failed to provide any safety and security for anybody today despite the emergency decree,” said protest spokesman Akanat Promphan, referring to a government order empowering police to control protests.

Akanat accused a “pro-government mob” of carrying out the attack which killed Suthin Tharathin – a leader of the Dharma Army, a Buddhist organisation that has been prominent in the demonstrations.

Each side in the bitterly divided kingdom routinely blames the other for the violence.

Suthin was the 10th person killed during nearly three months of rallies that have sparked international concern and investor fears over the country’s economy.

Sunday’s blockade of polls denied the franchise to thousands of registered voters and flouted the government-imposed state of emergency.

Away from the capital voting went ahead in 66 of the country’s 76 provinces, including the ruling party’s heartlands in the north and northeast, he said.

Yingluck, who has so far refused to resign or delay the poll, is set to meet elections officials on Tuesday after the Constitutional Court ruled that the general election could legally be delayed because of the crisis.

The demonstrators have rejected the election.