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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, May 28, 2018

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Thailand sticks to Feb. 2 election date despite threat of violence

The Thai capital has been shaken by nearly three months

Share on Facebook January 28, 2014, Reporter : BigNewsNet, Reader : 523

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra news

BANGKOK - The Thai government Tuesday announced it will go ahead with the controversial February 2 election despite mounting pressure from anti-government protesters to disrupt the vote.

While the election commission initially recommended that the date be pushed back, embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said it would go ahead as scheduled.

As election commissioners held talks with Yingluck at a military facility on Tuesday, about 500 anti-government protesters gathered outside.

The election commission had urged a delay of 120 days in the wake of street violence in which at least 10 people have been killed and hundreds injured in grenade attacks, drive-by shootings and clashes.

In the latest incident, shots were fired Tuesday near the Bangkok army base where Yingluck was holding meetings, as hundreds of protesters massed outside.

At least two people were injured in the gunfire, said Chumpol Jumsai, an anti-government protest leader at the site.

"Someone fired shots. One protester was hurt and the man who fired the shots was hurt, too. They have been sent to different hospitals," Chumpol told the Reuters news agency.

On Sunday, one person was shot dead in a clash as protesters swarmed dozens of polling stations to stop advance voting for February's election.

The Thai capital has been shaken by nearly three months of mass street demonstrations, demanding Yingluck's elected government step down to make way for an unelected "people's council" that would oversee reforms aimed at curbing the dominance of her billionaire family.

"We have to go forward with the election," said Pongthep Thepkanchana, the deputy prime minister.

Advance voting that began Sunday was marred by violence. Protesters surrounded and shut down 19 of 50 polling stations in Bangkok and more in the southern provinces.

A protest leader, Suthin Tharathin, was fatally shot near one polling station in Bangkok. Another protest leader threatened to block all polling stations in Bangkok on election day.

Yingluck, who has been leading a caretaker government, called the parliamentary election last December in hope of solidifying her power and calming protests.

But the push for elections has only deepened Thailand's eight-year political crisis and emboldened the protesters, who want to eliminate what they regard as the Shinawatra clan's corrupt influence over national politics, said LA Times.

Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters before the meeting that the vote should go forward "because the majority of people want the election."

Government supporters said that advance voting in north and northeast Thailand went smoothly, and anti-government protesters represent a minority of Thai voters.

The government earlier this month declared a 60-day state of emergency as a "preemptive measure to prevent violence that could break out during the upcoming elections," according to a government spokesperson.

Although Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party are widely popular in rural areas, the urban Bangkok elite see her as a puppet of her brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications mogul who many accuse of corruption and nepotism.

An amnesty bill that would have allowed him to return to Thailand from exile in Dubai without facing charges was the catalyst for the most recent turmoil.

The protesters' battle cry of "Shinawatras, out!" is framed as a stand against corruption, but beyond calling for a council of respected citizens to replace Thailand's elected legislature, the anti-government movement has put forward few concrete reform proposals, said LA Times.

Critics accuse the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician of controlling his sister's government from Dubai, where he lives to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

The protesters have staged a self-styled "shutdown" of Bangkok since January 13, occupying several main intersections, although attendance has gradually dwindled and disruption has been limited.

Over the weekend, the U.S. government called for an end to the violence, but avoided taking sides in the dispute.

"Preventing citizens from voting violates their universal rights and is inconsistent with democratic values," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. >BNN 

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