Thailand elections: Violent clashes in Bangkok over disputed poll


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The Independent Online

Gunfire and explosions returned to the Thai capital in renewed clashes between police and anti-government protesters yesterday, as the deadlocked country prepares to vote in disputed elections today.

At least six people were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds in Bangkok, including an American photojournalist, James Nachtwey. It was not clear whether the shots had been fired by police or protesters.

Yesterday's violence erupted during a stand-off between the supporters and opponents of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of exiled former leader and billionaire Thaksin. A group of pro-government supporters marched to a district office in northern Bangkok that had been surrounded by protesters trying to derail the vote.

Arrest warrants have been issued for three anti-government protesters who allegedly tried to prevent advance voting this week, the Bangkok Post reported.

At least 100,000 policeman and 5,000 soldiers are expected to be deployed as polling begins today amid ongoing demonstrations that have left 10 dead and nearly 600 injured since November.

The election commission has cancelled balloting in eight southern provinces, strongholds of the protest movement where the delivery of election materials has been prevented. Last week, demonstrators chained polling stations shut and stopped hundreds of thousands of people from casting advance ballots.

Experts believe the election will do little to resolve Thailand's political crisis, with suggestions that a power vacuum may lead to a repeat of the military coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. "I think probably we are moving toward a judicial coup of some sort," said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political analyst.

The protests began last year after the ruling party tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin Shinawatra, a figure that continues to divide the country, to return from exile. Thai courts are fast-tracking cases that could see Yingluck Shinawatra – a caretaker prime minister with limited powers – banished from power. The army has pointedly left open the possibility of intervention if the crisis is not resolved peacefully.