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Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — Thai anti-government demonstrators say they will keep up protests in Bangkok ahead of a controversial national election in a nation gripped by a bitter, protracted political crisis.

The protesters have been campaigning for months against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, fueling unrest that has left 10 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

The instability has created fears of political chaos in Thailand, which was shaken by severe bout of violence four years ago. The concerns have already hurt the country’s lucrative tourist industry and undermined investment in one of Southeast Asia’s main economies.

Yingluck called the elections in December in a bid to ease mounting tensions on the streets of Bangkok. But the demonstrators and the main opposition party with which they’re affiliated have already rejected the vote, which Yingluck’s party is expected to win comfortably.

State of emergency

Authorities have tightened security ahead of the vote Sunday, with 10,000 security personnel on standby.

Protest leaders want to replace Yingluck’s administration with an unelected “people’s council,” which would push through electoral and political changes. They say they want to rid Thailand of the influence of her older brother, the divisive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is living in self-imposed exile.

In recent weeks, the anti-government demonstrators have blocked candidate registrations and early voting in parts of Bangkok and southern Thailand, the regions from which they draw their support. Those efforts to undermine the election have resulted in clashes with pro-government groups, whose power base is in the north and northeast of the country.

Amid the bursts of violence, Thai authorities declared a state of emergency last week, giving extra powers to security forces and drawing criticism from human rights advocates.

But the government says it has no plans to use force against protesters, who plan to hold marches in central Bangkok on Friday and Saturday.

‘Picnic’ protest

The protest leaders say they want as many of their supporters as possible to join them Sunday in the streets of Bangkok for what they describe as a “picnic” that they hope will shut down the city on the day of the election.

But the numbers of demonstrators involved in a previous attempt to bring Bangkok to a standstill in early January quickly ebbed. Groups of them continue to gather at major intersections in the center of the city where they try to block traffic.

Their mood remains spirited. But on Thursday evening, they numbered around 7,000, police said, far fewer than the more than 150,000 who assembled in early January.

The main protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister for the opposition Democrat Party, says he is encouraging Thai people not to vote in the election.

In some areas of southern Thailand, anti-government demonstrators continued to block post offices Thursday, preventing election officials from collecting ballot papers.

‘A guiding light’

Yingluck has been under pressure since November after a botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have opened the door for Thaksin’s return stirred anger around the country.

Yingluck said Thursday that the election would be “a meaningful one” and “a guiding light” for the future of democracy in Thailand.

She has rejected calls to postpone the election despite concerns it could prompt an intensification of civil unrest without resolving the country’s extended political crisis.

“The election is one of the best and peaceful mechanisms to end conflict between people of different political views, and a way to reflect majority’s needs and minority’s voices,” Yingluck said in a statement Thursday.

But her party’s probable success in the vote appears unlikely to deter protesters. The demonstrators’ efforts to disrupt registration for the election could mean there aren’t enough candidates for a new parliament to open.

Pro-government groups, known as the red shirts, say they will hold rallies in several provinces Friday in support of the election. But they didn’t announce any plans for demonstrations in Bangkok, where the anti-government protesters are holding marches.

Thaksin’s shadow

Suthep’s anti-government protesters say Yingluck is merely a puppet of Thaksin, a polarizing figure who built his support on populist policies that pleased residents of the north and northeast. Yingluck has repeatedly denied her brother calls the shots in her government.

Thaksin, a business tycoon whose electoral success unsettled Thailand’s establish elite, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has spent most of the time since then in exile overseas. If he returns, he risks a two-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction, which he says was politically motivated.

The anti-government demonstrators stated goal of ridding Thailand of Thaksin’s influence appears ambitious in a country where parties affiliated with him have won every election since 2001.

Thailand’s worst bout of civil unrest took place in 2010, when the government — run at the time by the Democrat Party — ordered a crackdown on red shirt protesters, leaving about 90 people dead.

Violence feared as red shirts ordered to protect poll

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 31 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The likelihood of a volatile confrontation during this Sunday’s snap election has increased after a red-shirt leader yesterday urged government supporters to help ensure the voting would not be interrupted.

Thida Tavonseth, chairperson of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), made her appeal to thered shirts nationwide after the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) threatened to besiege all 50 district offices in Bangkok. This would make it difficult to transport ballot boxes, ballot papers and other voting equipment to the more than 6,500 polling stations in the city.

Thida said the red shirts should observe the election and help make sure that the voting can take place properly. “UDD [supporters] and democracy lovers must examine, push and lessen damage to the election to the least without confrontation,” she told the red shirts during her daily press conference. However, she did not mention how they would do that, saying the local and central leaders would plan and cooperate with political parties locally.

Thida said the UDD’s main rally in Samut Prakan’s Bang Pu today was cancelled as the leaders had learnt some people might instigate the situation. The UDD leaders should not gather but stay scattered instead, she said.

UDD coordinator Salaktham Tojirakarn said Thida did not tell the red shirts to gather in groups “to protect the polling booths”. He added that people who would camp out at polling stations to protect the venues are not red shirts, but they are “white shirts” who support the election.

Some critics claim many of the “white shirts” are actually red shirts.

Meanwhile, the authorities responsible for holding the Sunday election yesterday also took precautions against possible violence on voting day.

The Election Commission has asked the national police chief and the Metropolitan Police commissioner in writing to provide police personnel to help maintain law and order and protect officials at the polling stations.

A letter signed by deputy EC secretary-general Somsak Suriyamongkol, acting on behalf of the secretary-general, asked the police bosses to instruct police stations to deploy personnel to guard polling stations.

The police would focus on areas where there have been conflicts between local residents over Sunday’s voting, according to Royal Thai Police spokesman Pol Maj-General Piya Uthayo. He said rapid-deployment units would be sent out in case of an emergency.

He said national police chief Pol General Adul Sangsingkaew has instructed police personnel to help the EC in providing security during transportation of ballot boxes and papers, as well as during voting at the polling stations.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration also has sought assistance from the Army in providing security to its officials manning the polling stations, according to Ninnart Chalitanont, the BMA’s permanent secretary. She said the Army has promised to dispatch soldiers to all polling stations in Bangkok.

“The BMA is worried over the safety of our officials. This is the top priority. We instructed our officials to bring back the voting equipment and leave the polling stations if there is violence. Our officials are worried that they may be at risk,” she said yesterday.

In response to the PDRC threat to besiege all of the city’s district offices in a bid to block the voting, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday that it was not the BMA’s responsibility to talk with the protest leaders. He added that the EC should take care of the matter.

In a related development, the red shirts have prepared a retreat for caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should the military stage a coup d’etat to overthrow her government.

The plan is to relocate the Yingluck government to Chiang Mai, the home province of the Shinawatra family, with the northern city becoming the capital.

Red-shirt activist Mahawan Kawang said their movement is large enough to challenge the military, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. “We are not afraid. All the red groups will unite. We are willing to sacrifice our lives,” said Mahawan, president of the alumni association of Yupparaj School in Chiang Mai where Yingluck was once a student.

“It is likely the government will move to Chiang Mai. We can defeat tanks because we have the numbers,” he added.

Red-shirt supporters spread rumours that the military would intervene to quell the ongoing chaos in the country caused by anti-government protests.

UDD vice chairman of Chiang Mai, Supon Fumuljaroen, a former classmate of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, said: “The majority of red shirts really like the idea of a separate state. If they stage a coup, we can live without Bangkok.”

Pinkaew Laungaramsri, a sociologist at Chiang Mai University, said the north-south divide meant that Thailand was breaking up. “If the government is kicked out, then Yingluck will be invited to set up a government here in Chiang Mai,” she said.

However, some experts consider the government relocating as an unlikely prospect, the Post reported.

Philippine troops kill 37 rebels in offensive

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 31 - 2014 1 COMMENT

Two-day assault targeted fighters opposed to new peace deal between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Philippine troops have killed at least 37 Islamic fighters and captured a rebel stronghold with a bomb-producing facility.

Military officials said on Thursday that troops seized a key rebel stronghold that spans two villages in Maguindanao province and confiscated materials used for making explosive devises, following a two-day offensive.

One soldier was killed and 12 others were wounded by bombs hidden around a mosque during the fighting, according to Colonel Dickson Hermoso, regional military spokesman.

“It’s like a bomb factory,” Hermoso said. “We don’t negotiate with groups like this who threaten innocent civilians. We run after them to enforce the law.”

President Benigno Aquino III said the military launched the assault to protect villages after Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement fighters staged attacks in the province.

Abu Misry, a rebel spokesman, admitted part of the group’s stronghold had been taken by government forces, but denied statements that any fighters had been killed or captured, adding that seven fighters had been wounded by army shelling and rocket fire.

Peace talk tensions

“They can take our camps but if they don’t capture us, they cannot stop our jihad,” Misry told AP news agency by telephone.

The fighters oppose peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that took place in Malaysia last weekend and have vowed to continue protests because negotiations would not result in a separate homeland for minority Muslims in the country’s south.

While the government concluded talks over a new Muslim autonomy deal with the Moro group, at least four smaller groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement and the Abu Sayyaf, continue to threaten stability in the region.

Abu Sayyaf is known for its notorious bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

The military offensive was supposed to end Wednesday, but has been extended to Saturday as troops pursue retreating rebels, Hermoso said.

Some 10,000 villagers have fled fighting in the region.

We’ve seen the Galaxy Note series get larger and larger as time passes, but this is the first time we’ve seen the Note actually get smaller. The Galaxy Note 3 Neo has now been officially unveiled by Samsung Poland and will come in two flavors — 3G and “LTE+,” and the latter offers connectivity on higher-speed Category 4 networks (up to 150 Mbps down/50 Mbps up). The two share a lot of similarities, but there are a couple key differences as well: As you might expect, the LTE+ model is the more specced-out of the pair and offers a hexa-core processor consisting of two 1.7GHz Cortex-A15 cores and four 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 cores. The 3G (HSPA+ 21 Mbps) version, on the other hand, will enjoy a quad-core 1.6GHz processor of unknown make.

So what’s important about the new Neos? Both versions of the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean device feature a 5.5-inch 720p Super AMOLED panel with full S Pen capability, which means you’ll be able to take advantage of Air Command, S Note, Multi-Window and other pen-related functions; in other words, it’ll be a less-expensive version of the Note 3 for those who want the functionality without the absolute top-of-the-line features. It even comes with the same leatherlike back cover as its flagship counterpart (shown below).

The 162.5g Neo is 8.6mm thick, is compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch and comes with a pretty decent array of specs: You’re looking at a 3,100mAh battery, 8MP rear camera/2MP front-facing camera, 2GB of RAM, IR, NFC, WiFi 802.11a/ac/b/g/n, 16GB internal storage and microSDXC capacity up to 64GB. Not too shabby for a “Note 3 mini” of sorts, although we’re not sure what the price is at present time. Samsung says we should expect a global rollout next month (except the US and the UK, if the company hasn’t changed its mind) in our choice of black, white or green.

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