BANGKOK – A man identified by police as Suthin Taratin, one of the leaders of anti-government protests in Thailand was shot dead on Sunday when violence erupted as demonstrators in Bangkok tried to block early voting for an election next week.
Bangkok police said clashes had broken out between anti-government protesters and Yingluck supporters, with the two sides trading punches before shots were fired. Hospital officials said 11 people were hurt in the clashes in Bangkok’s Bang Na district.
It was not immediately clear who had fired the shots but the protesters accused the government and police of trying to intimidate them.
Protest spokesman Eakanat Phrompan said the government needed to investigate the shooting.
“Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has to take responsibility and explain the incident otherwise the people around the country will rise up,” he said.
Sunday’s violence came after a state of emergency came into effect on last Wednesday, casting further doubt over the election.
Suthin was the tenth person to be killed during nearly three months of rallies that have sparked international concern and investor fears over the country’s economy. Hundreds more have been wounded.
Each side in the bitterly divided kingdom blames the other for the violence.
The protesters, led by firebrand former premier Suthep Thaugsuban, accuse Yingluck of being Thaksin’s puppet and want an unelected “people’s council” to oversee reform before any future election is held.
Mr Suthep’s promise, that the demonstrations would not obstruct the voters, was broken repeatedly. In some areas, election officials appeared almost eager to comply with the protesters, fuelling suspicion among the government’s supporters that the purportedly independent Election Commission is taking sides.
The government says the main polling day next Sunday will go ahead as scheduled. The Election Commission says it should not. They will meet to discuss the timing on Tuesday.
Neither outcome will address the bitter polarisation of Thai society. Each side increasingly demonises and dehumanises the other – even more so after a well-known protest leader was killed in a confrontation that turned ugly outside a polling station.
A senior government official said earlier on Sunday that as many as 45 of the 50 polling stations in Bangkok had been shut as protesters swarmed the centres in what shaped as another blow for the embattled Yingluck. Early voting was also disrupted in 10 of Thailand’s 76 provinces.