Thailand's deadly election
Thailand's election commission on Thursday called for upcoming polls to be delayed as street battles between security forces and protesters seeking to disrupt the ballot killed a police officer and injured nearly 100 people, dealing fresh blows to the beleaguered government.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wants the Feb. 2 elections to take place as scheduled, believing she would win handily and renew her mandate. The street violence adds to pressure on her to take a tougher line against the protesters, risking more chaos and possible intervention by the army.
The hours-long unrest took place outside a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on ballots. Protesters threw rocks as they tried to break into the building to halt the process, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
Police said protesters fired live bullets, one of which killed the officer.
Four election commissioners left the stadium by helicopter to escape the violence, some of the sharpest since a long-running dispute between Thailand's bitterly divided political factions flared anew two months ago, pitching the Southeast Asian country into fresh turmoil.
The protest movement regards the Yingluck administration as corrupt, illegitimate and a proxy for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by a 2006 military coup. It is demanding that the elections be delayed until Yingluck leaves office and reforms are implemented.
The election commission said in a statement that it was urging the government to consider postponing the elections, citing the security situation. Commission head Somchai Srisutthiyakorn denied the body was "involving itself in politics" by urging a delay in the polls. "We have good intentions and want to see peace in this country," he told reporters.
Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said the government was unable to change the date of the polls.
"Feb. 2, 2014, was set as the election date in the royal decree dissolving Parliament, and there is nothing within the constitution or the law that gives the government the authority to change this date," he said. He reiterated that the government was willing to discuss reforms with the protesters, but insisted that the elections must take place as scheduled.
According to the constitution, elections must be held 45 to 60 days from the date that Parliament is dissolved.
The anti-government protests began in late October, but Thursday's violence was the first in nearly two weeks.
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