Thai police fire tear gas at protesters, offi cer killed
Police officer slain; government rejects efforts to delay February poll
> WORLD, PAGE 11
Thai police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in the capital, Bangkok, on Thursday after demonstrators tried to disrupt planning for a February election, the first such incident in nearly two weeks.
One officer has been killed in the protests in Bangkok, Thai police said.
The government rejected a call from the Election Commission to postpone the poll, insisting the vote would go ahead as planned.
The Election Commission urged the government to delay the vote until there was “mutual consent between all related parties”. Anti-government demonstrators insist they will not allow an election to take place until Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resigns.
“The February 2 election will go ahead,” Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said in a televised address. “There is no law allowing the government to delay the election.”
The confrontation between police and about 500 protesters angry with Yingluck came a day after the government again extended a special security law by two months.
The law, widened last month to cover all of the capital and nearby areas, allows police to ban gatherings, block routes, impose curfews and carry out searches, although such actions have been used sparingly.
Yingluck remains caretaker prime minister after calling a snap election for Feb 2 in an attempt to deflate weeks of mainly peaceful protests that, at their peak, have drawn 200,000 people on to the streets of Bangkok.
National Security Council head Paradorn Pattanathabutr said the police response on Thursday did not mark a change of policy. “We have warned them and informed them every time before firing tear gas,” Paradorn said.
Seven protesters were hospitalized with minor injuries, a public health official said.
The protesters draw their strength from Bangkok’s middle class and elite who dismiss Yingluck as a puppet of her selfexiled elder brother, former prime minister and telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin and Yingluck have their power base in the rural north and northeast. Their opponents accuse Thaksin of manipulating the poor in those areas with populist policies such as cheap healthcare and easy credit.
The protesters gathered outside a Bangkok gymnasium where Thailand’s Election Commission is working through the
We have warned them and informed them every time before firing tear gas.” PARADORN PATTANATHABUTR NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD
process of registering candidates for the February election.
Media said representatives of a number of parties planning to contest the election were inside the building at the time. Calls by Reuters reporters to officials inside could not be connected.
Police warned the protesters not to try to enter the building and then fired several rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets when demonstrators tried to break down a fence.
The protesters, some of whom had been throwing rocks, soon withdrew.
Protesters are well prepared for such clashes, the last of which happened about two weeks ago. Many carry goggles and masks to cover their faces, and water bottles to wash out their eyes.
The clash came a day after the Thai Cabinet voted to extend the Internal Security Act by two months.
Protesters, led by fiery former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, have vowed to disrupt the election and hound Yingluck from office. They want an unelected “people’s council” to rule before elections are called.
The election has been made more uncertain by a boycott by the main opposition Democrat Party, which draws its support from Bangkok and the south, the same base as Suthep’s group.
Yingluck has proposed the creation of an independent reform council to run alongside the elected government, an apparent attempt at compromise that was immediately rejected by the protesters.
Yingluck has not been in the capital for most of the past week, choosing instead to shore up her support in her power base to the north, and will not return to Bangkok until next year.
Her Puea Thai Party is almost certain to win the election, just as Thaksin’s populist political juggernaut has won every vote since 2001. That run of success has come despite violent protests and judicial and military intervention around previous polls.
Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 coup and has lived in selfimposed exile since 2008, when he was sentenced to two years in jail for graft charges that he says were politically motivated.
The first two years of Yingluck’s government were relatively smooth, until her party miscalculated in November and tried to push an amnesty bill through Parliament that would have allowed her brother to return home a free man.
Riot police escort two anti-government protesters during clashes in Bangkok on Thursday. Police fired tear gas at protesters after demonstrators tried to disrupt planning for a February election, the first such incident in nearly two weeks.