Anti-Yingluck protester shot dead amid clash after election disrupted
A leader of anti-government protests is shot dead amid confrontation in Bangkok after early voting ahead of next week's poll is disrupted
Anti-government demonstrators swarmed dozens of polling stations in Thailand yesterday to stop advance voting for next Sunday's elections, chaining gates shut, threatening voters and preventing hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots.
A protest faction leader was fatally shot in a confrontation near a polling centre that also left 11 people wounded, and isolated street brawls broke out in several parts of Bangkok.
Suthin Tharathin, a leader of the Dharma Army, a Buddhist organisation that has been prominent in a recent wave of anti-government demonstrations, was gunned down while he gave a speech from the back of a pick-up truck in a suburb of the Thai capital.
Protest spokesman Akanat Promphan accused a "pro-government mob" of carrying out the attack.
Suthin was the 10th person to be killed during nearly three months of rallies that have stoked international concern and investor fears.
More than two million people are registered for advance voting before the poll, which was called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to try to defuse rising political tensions.
Protesters descended on scores of polling stations in the capital and several southern provinces, stopping ballot officials from entering and prompting election authorities to shut at least 45 venues.
Yesterday's blockade of polls flouted a government-imposed state of emergency.
Watch: Thai protesters disrupt advance voting for disputed election
"Forty-five polling stations had to be closed out of 50 in Bangkok," said Surapong Tovichakchaikul, deputy prime minister and one of the main figures at the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, which is handling the crisis.
Away from the capital, voting went ahead in 66 of the 76 provinces, including the ruling party's heartlands in the north and northeast.
"We won't postpone the election because we've seen from the advance voting that it can still go ahead," Surapong said. "They blocked polling stations only in some parts of Bangkok and southern provinces that are equivalent to eight to 10 per cent of the country, while 90 per cent can go ahead."
Yingluck, who has so far refused to resign or delay the poll, is set to meet elections officials tomorrow after the Constitutional Court ruled that the election could legally be delayed because of the crisis.
Thais has been left bitterly divided by years of political turmoil.
While the protest augurs badly for next weekend's general election, Yingluck is likely to press on with the ballot regardless, according to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University. "I don't think it will increase pressure on her to postpone it. She wants to boost her government's legitimacy with a quick election."
The demonstrators have staged a near two-week "shutdown" of Bangkok to try to derail the vote. They are demanding Yingluck's government be replaced by a non-elected "people's council" that would implement anti-corruption reforms before elections.
At a polling station in the capital, about a dozen frustrated voters said the poll closure amounted to an assault on their democratic freedoms.
"I came to protect my rights," said 75-year-old Vipa Yoteepitak.
"We can't let this happen. If we don't fight today to vote, we will keep losing our rights."
Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said some protesters had threatened voters, and in one case had tried to strangle a man.
International Federation for Human Rights president Karim Lahidji also said protesters had gone too far.
Associated Press, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse