Thai antigovernment protester killed as election tensions rise

Unknown gunman opens fire on opposition rally, 48 hours after two demonstrators were killed in clashes with police

Thai antigovernment protesters mourn in front of the picture of Yuthana Ong-art -- who was shot and killed early Saturday morning -- during a condolence ceremony in Bangkok.
Wason Wanichakorn/AP

A Thai protester was killed and four wounded Saturday, an emergency official said, when an unidentified gunman opened fire on demonstrators who have been attempting to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for weeks. 

Petphong Kamjonkitkarn, director of the Erawan Emergency Centre in the capital, Bangkok, said one man in his 30s had been shot dead. Four others suffered gunshot wounds.

Several hundred protesters have been camped out in tents around the walls of Yingluck's Government House offices, one of several rally sites around the capital. Witnesses said they were sleeping when gunfire rang out.

"I was sleeping, and then I heard several gunshots. I was surprised," said one 18-year-old protester, who identified himself by his nickname "Boy."

Other witnesses said the shots could have come from a car as it drove past the protest site. Reuters television pictures showed bullet holes in a concrete barrier and a generator, as well as bloodstains inside tents.

Later Saturday, opposition leader Suthep Thaugsaban told protesters in the capital that they would "seize Bangkok" in the new year: "I ask my brothers and sisters in various provinces to be prepared and help us seize Bangkok."

Demonstrators accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her brother, ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was overthrown in a 2006 military coup.

In response to the protests that have paralyzed Bangkok in past weeks, Yingluck called on Dec. 8 for a snap election which her party, Puea Thai, would likely win. The election is scheduled for Feb. 2. Demonstrators have vowed to block the election.

Registration blocked in South

Election registration continued in some areas Saturday, although the Election Commission (EC) asked that the poll be delayed after Thursday's violence until "mutual consent" from all sides was achieved.

Registration in six southern provinces had to be temporarily closed because the sites had been blockaded by opposition protesters, according to EC Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong.

The protesters draw much support from the south, as does the main opposition and pro-establishment Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest party which has said it will boycott the poll. Yingluck, who draws her support from the rural north and northeast, asked the military for help to provide security for candidates and voters.

The opposition, meanwhile, has called for the military's support in overthrowing Yingluck. The Thai military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of democracy.

Friday, the chief of the heavily politicized army declined to rule out military intervention, responding that "the door was neither open nor closed" when asked if a coup was possible. Following the announcement, pro-government protesters, or red-shirts, said the people must get ready to rise up and fight against a coup.

With the street protests escalating, any delay to a poll that Yingluck's Puea Thai Party would otherwise be expected to win would leave her government open to legal challenges or military or judicial intervention.

The protesters draw strength from Bangkok's conservative middle class, royalist bureaucracy and elite, many with ties to the judiciary and military, who resent the rise of the billionaire Shinawatra family and their political juggernaut.

They accuse former telecoms tycoon Thaksin of corruption and manipulating a fragile democracy by effectively buying the support of the rural poor with populist policies such as cheap healthcare and easy credit.

Instead of an election, the protesters want an appointed "people's council" to oversee reforms before any future vote.

The first two years of Yingluck's government had been relatively smooth until a blunder by her party in November, when it tried to push through an unpopular amnesty bill that would have exonerated Thaksin from a 2008 graft conviction he says was politically motivated. Before he could be sentenced to a two-year jail term following the conviction, Thaksin fled to Dubai for self-imposed exile.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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