Gunmen killed an anti-government activist and wounded two others in Thailand's capital yesterday, while protesters elsewhere blocked candidates from registering for upcoming elections, deepening a political crisis that threatens to derail democracy in the nation.
The registration for the February 2 polls was suspended in four of the country's 76 provinces. All four were southern provinces where the demonstrators, who are seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, enjoy support.
The events followed comments on Friday by the powerful army chief in which he declined to rule out the possibility of a coup in the country.
The gun attack early yesterday took place close to a protest camp in central Bangkok, according to a government-run medical centre. It said a 31-year-old man was killed by gunfire and two others were wounded in the attack, which occurred at about 3.30am. Local media said unidentified gunmen opened fire on guards close to a protest camp before escaping into the night.
Hundreds of candidates yesterday were registering for the polls, but the process was stopped in four southern provinces because protesters blocked the venues and local election officials wanted to avoid violence, said Puchong Nutrawong, secretary general of Thailand's Election Commission. Registration continued in a fifth southern province - Surat Thani - despite protests there, he said.
"Our policy is to avoid any confrontation," Puchong said.
The long-running dispute between Thailand's bitterly divided political factions flared anew last month after Yingluck's government tried to introduce an amnesty bill that could have enabled her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return from self-imposed exile and escape a jail term for corruption.
Yingluck called early elections as a way of defusing the crisis, but the protesters are demanding she resign and hand over power to an unelected council to carry out "reforms". They are trying to disrupt the polls, which most people believe will give her a strong mandate thanks to strong support in the north and northeast of the country.
On Thursday, protesters tried to overrun a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on ballots. Two people, including a police officer, were shot dead.
Thailand's army has so far stayed out of the crisis, but it has staged 11 successful coups in the country's history - the last against Thaksin in 2006 - so its intentions are being watched carefully.
Asked whether a military takeover was possible, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said simply: "That door is neither open nor closed … it will be determined by the situation."