Thai po­lice fire tear gas at pro­test­ers, offi cer killed

Po­lice of­fi­cer slain; gov­ern­ment re­jects ef­forts to de­lay Fe­bru­ary poll

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in BANGKOK

> 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.

CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM / REUTERS

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.

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