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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.

Suthep writes to Obama, affirming non-violent campaign

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 25 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban has sent a letter to US President BarackObama, affirming non-violent campaign of the PDRC to fight against a corrupt and “dictatorial” regime.

Suthep said in the letter that the PDRC is a pro-democracy movement and he wrote the letter to respond to questions of the international community.

He alleged that the Yingluck government had obtained power by violations of democratic principles – by buying votes and manipulating electoral system.

His letter says:

“Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to you today in response to a number of questions raised by the international community regarding the political protests that are ongoing in the Kingdom of Thailand. My name is Suthep Thaugsuban, and I am leading this movement through the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Please let me assure you that the PDRC is not conducting an anti-democratic uprising. In fact, the PDRC is a pro-democracy movement intent upon removing the dictatorial regime led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who has been empowered through and directed by her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. For the past 13 years, the Shinawatra family has governed Thailand by a combination of tyranny, corruption, bribery, theft, and a complete disregard for human rights. While both Thaksin and Yingluck were both elected by the people of Thailand, both their elections and their governance represent the gravest of violations of democratic principles – including vote buying and electoral manipulation by the state – and over the past several months, millions of people representing the whole of Thailand have risen up to object.

The PDRC strategy is based on non-violent civil disobedience. While many of Thaksin’s supporters have objected strenuously to our use of civil disobedience, please let me remind you that throughout the world, people have claimed their rightful independence, received recognition of civil rights, fought apartheid, and defeated Communism through this same civil disobedience. I will argue that Thai citizens are morally responsible to rise up and demand removal of both Yingluck and the influence of Thaksin, then define and implement the reform necessary to ensure that the Kingdom of Thailand remains free from unjust and corrupt leaders in the future. Most importantly, a reform that will bring about free and fair elections and a truly representative government.

The people of Thailand want and deserve democracy, and I am confident that the PDRC will help achieve and maintain the democratic process that this great country has long deserved.

Most respectfully,

Suthep Thaugsuban

People’s Democratic Reform Committee”

Thailand protesters ‘promise not to obstruct voting’

Posted by Rattana_S On January - 25 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has promised that his supporters will not obstruct advance voting for next week’s general election.

Mr Suthep says protesters will not try to stop people from casting their ballots from Sunday, but will demonstrate outside polling stations.

They want the PM to step down and the political system to be reformed.

But the government says the vote will go ahead, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that it can be delayed.

A state of emergency is in place as the authorities struggle to cope with the unrest.

Outbreaks of violence

Protesters, who started their campaign in November, want to install an unelected “people’s council” to run the country until the political system is changed.

They say PM Yingluck Shinawatra’s government is being influenced by her brother, exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

At least nine people have died since the wave of protests started last year.

Both the pro-government “red shirt” activists and the anti-government protesters have blamed each other for outbreaks of violence.

Mr Suthep said that although his followers would not disrupt early voting due to begin on Sunday, they would demonstrate outside each of Bangkok’s 50 polling stations.

“We will persuade everyone in front of polling stations to jointly reform Thailand instead of exercising their voting rights,” Thailand’s Bangkok Post quoted him as saying.

The election commission said more than two million people had registered to vote early. Those eligible include students and migrant workers who are unable to return home on election day.

The electoral commission and the main opposition party, the Democrats, have called on the government to delay the polls, saying the current unrest makes conducting free and fair elections too difficult.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the polls scheduled for 2 February can be legally postponed – but that any delay must have the agreement of the election commission and the prime minister.

But the government insists elections should go ahead as planned.

Ms Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party commands significant support, especially with rural voters, and is seen as likely to win the polls.

The opposition, which resigned from parliament in December, has said it would boycott the elections.

On Tuesday, the government imposed a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. The decree gives the government the power to control crowds and censor media, but its enforcement has remained unclear.

Protests started after Thailand’s lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill which critics said could allow former PM Thaksin Shinawatra to return without serving time in jail.

Pro-government supporters have mostly stayed away from the latest protests but observers fear further violence if they decide to take to the streets.

Meanwhile, Ms Yingluck is also being investigated by Thailand’s anti-corruption body in connection with a controversial government rice subsidy scheme – a move that could potentially force her from politics.

Dozens injured in grenade attack

Posted by Rattana_S On January - 18 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Protest leader expects more attacks; weapons found in deserted building

Violence heightened yesterday afternoon when a march by anti-government protesters in central Bangkok was hit by a grenade attack that left at least 36 people injured.

The blast was the first attack in broad daylight and occurred close to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. A total of 26 men and 10 women were taken to hospital by ambulance.

Members of the Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit said later that they believe the bomb was a Chinese-made grenade. It was thought to have been thrown from a deserted building on Banthad Thong Road into a crowd of protesters joining a march led by Suthep.

Some guards of the protest leaders claimed they had found a grenade safety pin in a deserted building, from which the bomb was reportedly thrown.

Yesterday’s incident was the latest in a series of violent attacks targeting the seven protest sites in the city and places belonging to supporters or sympathisers of the movement, including opposition politicians. Hand grenades and assault rifles were among the weapons used.

About half an hour after the attack, the government’s Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order warned members of the public and state officials against joining street protests organised by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

CAPO said legal action would be taken against not only protest leaders but also ordinary protesters.

Reading a statement for a live broadcast, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog noted that under the Criminal Code the offence of insurrection carried severe penalties. He said any supporter of the protest movement, including those donating money, would be deemed to be violating the law.

His warning was also directed at state officials who take part in the protest or sympathise with the protesters. They would face not only disciplinary action but also criminal prosecution and the reputation of their family would be negatively affected, he warned.

Pracha did not mention the bomb attack in the statement but told reporters later that he had been informed about the incident.

There have been many marches without incident since the protest began in November. But with intense pressure on the government five days after the “Bangkok shutdown” began, analysts said pro-government supporters might want to deter people from joining rallies aimed at getting the caretaker PM to step down.

Suthep, who was not injured, was immediately taken away from the area by bodyguards.

The blast happened shortly before Suthep was due to march past the spot, according to PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan.

“The bomb went off about 30 metres from Suthep and then his bodyguards escorted him back to a rally stage,” he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

There have been drive-by shootings by unknown assailants at rally sites and grenade attacks on the houses of opposition politicians, including Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra.

Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is in charge of the CAPO, said yesterday that the attacks were plotted to incite violence.

“A movement has been set up to create a situation of bomb attacks against leaders’ houses and protesters,” he told reporters.

Satit Wongnongtaey, another protest leader and former Democrat MP, said he expected more attacks around the protest sites in the coming days.

Inside the deserted building, an assortment of war weapons was found in a room. Officers from the Army Ordnance Corps entered the building with TV camera crews and protester guards. In addition to the grenade safety pin, they found weapons, including unassembled parts of an M16 assault rifle, according to the pro-opposition Bluesky satellite-based television channel.

It reported that in the room there were also a refrigerator, clothes, a bath towel, food, and a red cap.

Meanwhile, Piyaman Tejapaibul, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the bomb attack against anti-government protesters in Banthad Thong would have a negative impact on the tourism sector.

“Local travel agents with overseas partners have evaluated the reaction from their foreign clients when hearing about such violence, and how particular countries will increase the warning level to their people on coming to Thailand,” she said.

“However, the bomb attack will primarily affect the tourism industry in Thailand during the Chinese New Year period, which will run from the end of January to the beginning of February.”

The total number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand this month is forecast at about 400,000.

Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the bomb attack on the procession led by People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban at noon yesterday sent a signal that the political tension had escalated into violence. The incident might draw a greater number of demonstrators.

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