Drive-by shooting of 'red shirt' leader raises tension in Thailand

Gunmen wound pro-government leader in the country's northeast as a state of emergency begins in response to violence in Bangkok

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 11:24pm

A pro-government leader was shot and wounded yesterday in Thailand's northeast, a stronghold of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as a state of emergency began in and around the capital Bangkok where protesters are trying to force her to resign.

The government issued the 60-day emergency decree late on Tuesday, handing security agencies wide powers to detain suspects, impose a curfew and limit gatherings.

Officials said it was aimed at preventing an escalation of the protests that have gripped the capital for more than two months and brought parts of the centre to a halt.

Bangkok appeared normal and people were going about their business as usual with police making no attempt to break up the protests, including one outside a complex where Yingluck was working.

From the way the assailants fired, they obviously didn’t want him to live

But highlighting the risk of the political deadlock turning violent, "red shirt" leader Kwanchai Praipana, who had warned of a nationwide fight if the military launched a coup, was wounded in the arm and leg in a drive-by shooting at his home in the northeastern province of Udon Thani. Dozens of shots were fired in the attack.

Police said they believed it was politically motivated.

"From the way the assailants fired, they obviously didn't want him to live," said his wife, Arporn Sarakham. Police said they had found 39 bullet casings at the house.

Kwanchai leads thousands of pro-government supporters in Udon Thani.

On Tuesday, he said that if the military attempted a coup: "I can assure you, on behalf of the 20 provinces in the northeast, that we will fight. The country will be set alight if the soldiers come out."

So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray. The police are charged with imposing the state of emergency, under orders from Yingluck to treat protesters with patience.

"We will try our best," army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha said. "But if any violence erupts and no one can solve it, the troops will have to step in and tackle it.

"We will look after our nation with the right methods. We will not lead the nation into any violence," he added.

Nine people have died and dozens have been wounded in violence, including two grenade attacks in the capital over the weekend, since protesters took to the streets in November to demand that Yingluck step down and an unelected "people's council" be set up to bring sweeping reforms.

Yingluck and her supporters deny responsibility for attacks on the protesters, and some accuse the military of trying to provoke a violent confrontation as a pretext for it to oust the government.

Those suspicions were heightened when a group of navy officers were arrested in plain clothes carrying pistols with silencers as they mingled with the protesters. They had been driving a car with false plates.

The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that has gripped the country for eight years. It pits the middle class of Bangkok and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, toppled by the military in 2006.

Thaksin and his allies have won every election in Thailand since 2001.

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