An opposition protester was killed and four wounded yesterday when an unidentified gunman opened fire on demonstrators, an emergency official said, as efforts to topple Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have flared into violence.
The shooting came 48 hours after clashes between police and the protesters, who are determined to disrupt a snap Feb. 2 election called by Yingluck, outside a voting registration center in which two people were killed and scores wounded.
The violence is the latest in years of rivalry between Bangkok’s middle class and royalist establishment, and the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.
Petphong Kamjonkitkarn, director of the Erawan Emergency Center in the capital, Bangkok, told reporters that one man in his 30s had been shot dead, while four suffered gunshot wounds.
The protesters have been rallying for weeks in their attempt to topple Yingluck, who they see as a puppet of her brother, and they have vowed to block an election that she would most likely win.
Yingluck, who draws her support from the rural north and northeast, is determined to go ahead with the poll.
On Friday, her government asked the military for help to provide security for candidates and voters.
However, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the heavily politicized army, declined to rule out military intervention, saying that “the door was neither open nor closed” when asked if a coup was possible.
Several hundred protesters are camped out in tents around the walls of Yingluck’s Government House offices, one of several rally sites around the capital. Witnesses said they were sleeping when gunfire rang out at about 3.30am.
“I was sleeping and then I heard several gunshots. I was surprised,” said one 18-year-old protester, who identified himself as “Boy.”
Other witness said the shots could have come from a car as it drove past the protest site.
Reuters television pictures showed bullet holes in a concrete barrier and a generator, as well as bloodstains inside a tent.
Protesters showed several small-calibre slugs they found.
Registration for the election was to continue yesterday, although the Thai Election Commission has asked that the poll be delayed after Thursday’s violence until “mutual consent” from all sides is achieved — a very unlikely scenario.
Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong said the body had temporarily closed registration centers in six southern provinces because the sites had been blocked by protesters and candidates could not enter to register.
Media reported that protesters had cut water and electricity to some of the sites.
The protesters draw much of their support from the south, as does the main opposition and pro-establishment Democrat Party, — Thailand’s oldest party — which has further muddied the waters by saying it will boycott the poll.
With the street protests escalating, any delay to a poll that Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party would otherwise be expected to win would leave her government open to legal challenges, or military or judicial intervention.
The military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of democracy, making Friday’s comments by the general more chilling for Yingluck and Thaksin.