About seven Thai anti-government protesters have been wounded after gunmen opened fire on a rally in Bangkok, intensifying pressure on the caretaker government ahead of a planned city-wide “shutdown”.
The kingdom is the grip of a political crisis that has led to parliament being dissolved, with demonstrators holding mass protests aimed at toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and ending the influence of her wildly divisive brother on Thai politics.
One protester was seriously wounded after unknown gunmen fired at the protesters’ main rally site in two separate attacks early Saturday, Thai police told AFP.
“The first attack occurred at 2.30am ICT (6.30am AEDT) wounding two people, including a protest security guard. The second took place a few hours later wounding five protesters,” said Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri of the Royal Thai Police.
The toll was confirmed by the city’s Erawan emergency medical centre, who said one man remained in a “critical condition”.
Protesters are seeking to block a snap election called for February 2, and want Yingluck to resign immediately.
The nation’s election authority has called for the poll to be postponed citing the febrile political climate.
Eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and dozens injured in street violence in recent weeks, and the government has voiced fears of more bloodshed as protesters refuse to back down in their efforts to oust the Shinawatras.
Authorities have raised fears that a planned “shutdown” by the anti-government protesters on Monday could lead to more violence.
One company of soldiers was deployed at each of 37 locations – including government offices – across the capital on Friday night, an army spokesman told AFP.
Thousands of police are also expected to keep the peace.
Amid heightening fears of violence on Monday, the head of Thailand’s powerful army called for calm.
“I’m concerned about security as many people will come and violence has happened throughout (the protests),” army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters on Saturday.
Prayut also urged Thais to “solve the problems of Thai people” in an apparent rebuttal of concerns voiced by the international community at the deteriorating political situation.
United Nations’ chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday called for “restraint” from all sides, expressing fears the situation “could escalate in the days ahead”.
The current impasse has revived fears of a judicial or military ousting of the government, in a country which has hosted 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932.
Thailand has experienced several bouts of political violence since Yingluck’s brother Thaksin was ousted as prime minister by royalist generals in 2006.
The billionaire tycoon, who fled the kingdom in 2008 to dodge jail for a corruption conviction that he says was politically motivated, is hated by the anti-government protesters.
But he still draws strong loyalty from the northern half of the country including “Red Shirt” activists.
The protesters in Bangkok want to suspend Thailand’s democracy to allow reforms aimed at rooting out Thaksin’s influence.
But his sister Yingluck’s Puea Thai party is expected to win the February election if it goes ahead.
The nation’s Election Commission (EC) on Saturday urged the government to seek a postponement of polls until May.
“We cannot find enough people to work at polling stations,” said EC official Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, because of the “family and peer pressure” created by the political tensions.
Red Shirts have called on the EC, several other key legal bodies and the army to allow the election to proceed or face protests from their group.
In 2010 Red Shirts paralysed Bangkok’s commercial centre for a weeks-long protest which ended in a bloody crackdown on their rally. [AFP]