- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) - Several hundred anti-government protesters on Tuesday laid siege to a meeting of Thailand’s prime minister with the country’s polling body to discuss the possibility of postponing a general election set for this weekend. Two people were injured, one with a gunshot wound, as violence broke out on the fringes of the crowd.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra attended the meeting despite the blockade by protesters who want her resignation and the cancellation of Sunday’s parliamentary election. The vote is key to Yingluck’s strategy of re-establishing her government’s legitimacy in the face of mass street protests that have tied up Bangkok for weeks.

Soon after the meeting began, some of the protesters pushed their way into the compound of the Army Club on the outskirts of Bangkok, where the meeting was being held. They did not enter any buildings, which were guarded by police and soldiers. The protesters seek to stop the machinery of government from operating, and to that end are occupying major road junctions in Bangkok and have closed down many government buildings.

The tumult cast further doubt on whether there can be any short-term solution to Thailand’s political crisis, which pits followers and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra against each other. Thaksin, who is Yingluck’s older brother, was deposed by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power, and since then the two sides have been engaged in a sometimes violent struggle for power.

The protesters are demanding that an unelected interim government take power before another election so it can implement what they say are reforms needed to fight corruption. They say they will continue blocking key intersections of Bangkok until Yingluck steps down, no matter whether Sunday’s election is held or postponed.

Bluesky Channel, a web and satellite television station that supports the protesters and broadcasts many of their activities live, reported a shooting near the crowd outside the Army Club and that two people had been hurt. Its report showed a trail of blood on the ground. Guards for the protesters chased and beat up a man they alleged was the shooter; his face was bloodied as a charity worker and a medic carried him away.

The government has indicated it wants to go ahead with the polls while the state Election Commission has urged calling them off. Protesters were able to block advance voting in several areas this past Sunday and are expected to repeat the effort for the main voting on Feb. 2.

In opening remarks to the commission witnessed by reporters, Yingluck told the election commissioners that in 66 out of the country’s 76 provinces, the election could proceed, so that postponing the vote could be an option with the remaining areas.

Before the meeting, election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told reporters that the commission would tell Yingluck about the problems involved with Sunday’s election, including a lack of manpower and equipment that has yet to reach many provinces. The disruptions have been caused by the protesters, and some senior government officials have accused the commission of working in cahoots with the protesters.

Somchai said the election commission is willing to receive support from the military and the police but said the “confrontation, clashes and violence are not good and will create more violence and losses in the country.” He said it was possible that not enough parliamentary seats could be filled to reach a quorum and convene a legislative session.

“I think Thailand has suffered enough and no one should be hurt or die from this election,” he said.

The Erawan emergency medical service confirmed that two people were injured in Tuesday’s violence outside the Army Club. Ramathibodi Hospital nurse Karn Chulaphan said one patient was in serious condition with a bullet wound in the stomach.

Increased protest-related violence spurred the government last week to declare a state of emergency covering Bangkok and surrounding areas. The measure allows curtailment of many normal civil liberties, but no substantive action has yet been taken according to its provisions, though it criminalizes many of the activities carried out by the protesters.

On Sunday, one protester was shot dead in a clash as protesters swarmed dozens of polling stations in Thailand to stop advance voting for Sunday’s election. Police Col. Kamthorn Auicharoen said a grenade was thrown at the Bangkok home of Samran Rodpetch, a protest leader, early Tuesday morning but caused no injuries.

Although violence has become almost a sideshow to the protest activities, it still has not reached the level of protests in 2010, when an armed militia aligned with protesters on the other side of the political fence stalked the capital with grenade launchers.

The protesters are occupying major road junctions in Bangkok, and have closed down many government buildings to try to force the government out. Yingluck’s ruling party still enjoys strong support in most parts of the country, especially among poorer Thais who see it as their champion.


AP writer Jinda Wedel contributed to this report.

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