Gunmen shot and wounded a top leader of a major pro-government movement in northern Thailand yesterday, as demonstrators pushing to overthrow the prime minister defied the start of a state of emergency imposed in the capital to cope with the nation’s increasingly bloody political crisis.
Local radio host Kwanchai Praipana, one of the main figures behind the Red Shirts’ mass rallies in 2010 in Bangkok that ended in a bloody military crackdown, was shot in the shoulder and knee by gunmen in a pickup truck who sprayed bursts of gunfire at his home in Udon Thani, according to another leader of the group, Jutaporn Promphan.
“From the way the assailants fired, they obviously didn’t want him to live,” his wife, Arporn Sarakham, told Reuters.
Police said they had found 39 bullet cases at the house.
The government announced the state of emergency late on Tuesday in the wake of a string of attacks that have mostly been aimed at demonstrators protesting peacefully in Bangkok. Grenade assaults on Friday last week and Sunday killed one man and wounded more than 60 people, bringing the casualty toll since November last year to at least nine dead and more than 550 hurt.
The government said it enacted the emergency decree to improve security and ensure that the Feb. 2 elections, opposed by protesters, are held without disruption.
Officials made clear there would be no crackdown on demonstrators who have seized several patches of the capital, and life in the city continued as normal with tourist sites unaffected and no major deployment of extra security forces.
The emergency decree, which will remain in effect for 60 days, gives police expanded powers to make arrests, conduct searches and seize suspicious materials.
The powerful army commander, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said “we will have to see” whether it helps ease the violence.
The protesters have refused to negotiate with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, but Prayuth urged both sides to talk, saying, “we must stop this conflict to let the country move forward.”
“I’m in favor of discussion. No one takes all or loses all. No one wins all or loses all, so we have to find a way,” he said. “Whenever the conflict has gone to the point that it is not fixable, the soldiers have to fix it.”
The protesters have blocked major streets and marched on government offices in a bid to shut down the capital and force Yingluck’s resignation to make way for an appointed government to implement reforms to fight corruption, which they say must be implemented before any vote.
The opposition Democrat Party, closely aligned with the protesters, is boycotting the polls.
The unrest has cast doubt over whether next month’s elections, which Yingluck called to quell the crisis, will be held.
The Election Commission yesterday asked the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling on whether and how the ballot can be delayed.
Caretaker Thai Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said that the vote should go ahead and the commission should not use the state of emergency decree as a reason to postpone it.
“They can use any excuses they want, but their duty is to hold the election,” he said. “They may accuse the government of causing problems, but the government doesn’t have any problems.”
The government says it imposed the decree in part to secure the city and because protesters have tried to shut down government offices.