- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

BANGKOK (AP) - The founder of Thailand’s “yellow shirt” protest movement that shut down Bangkok airports last year was shot and wounded by gunmen Friday, just days after troops cracked down on rioting protesters from the rival, anti-government “red shirt” movement.

Sondhi Limthongkul was being driven to work before dawn Friday when at least two men in a pickup truck ambushed his car and opened fire with an M-16 and an AK-47, first aiming to shoot out the tires and then spraying the vehicle with bullets, said police Maj. Gen. King Kwangvisetchaichai.

Sondhi was shot in the shoulder and grazed by another bullet near his eyebrow, and his driver was also wounded, he said, adding that dozens of bullet shells were found on the road nearby. Neither was critically wounded, he said.

Sondhi’s People’s Alliance for Democracy staged protests most of last year to demand that allies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra resign from government. His supporters come mainly from the middle class and educated elite of Thai society, and include royalists, academics and retired military.

The latest round of protests in Thailand involved their rivals, the red-shirted supporters of Thaksin. The red-shirts, who largely come from rural areas, rioted in Bangkok earlier this week but called off the protests Tuesday after facing a major military crackdown.

The rioting revealed deep-seated anger among the poor in Thailand who say they feel discriminated against in Thai society.

They argue that security forces did nothing to crack down on the yellow-shirted royalist protesters who occupied Government House for three months last year and then seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week, stranding some 300,000 travelers.

A spokesman for the yellow-shirted alliance, Panthep Poapongpan, called the attack politically motivated.

“It is quite clear that it was political,” he said, adding that the attack “did not come as a surprise.” Sondhi was traveling at the time with two bodyguards, who were not wounded.

Police said an investigation was under way to determine the motive.

“Since he is a political figure, we will have to look into that,” said King, the police official in charge of the case.

The Thai capital remained under emergency rule on Friday for a sixth day. A state of emergency was imposed Sunday a day after red-shirted protesters stormed a summit of Asian leaders outside Bangkok, prompting its cancellation and the evacuation of leaders by helicopter.

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