Explosions and several shots were heard in the Thai capital Saturday as opposition activists, bent on disrupting Sunday’s controversial snap polls, clashed with government supporters, leaving seven persons injured.
The political rivals clashed with pistols and assault rifles despite tight security put in place to thwart the opposition’s attempts to scuttle the vote, including the deployment of over 2,00,000 security personnel. Soldiers were reported to be moving into the Lak Si area, where the clashes had erupted, to assist police in controlling the situation.
Two explosions were heard in the area, which police said were caused by Molotov cocktails, before the firing began. The firing continued for nearly an hour and left six Thais, including a reporter, and American photojournalist James Nachtwey injured, the city’s emergency services said. People caught up in the violence took shelter inside a nearby mall and a covered pedestrian bridge. Others were seen hiding behind vehicles, the Bangkok Post reported.
Protesters marched in Bangkok and laid siege to a building where ballots were stored in a final bid to derail the polls and stop beleaguered premier Yingluck Shinawatra from returning to power. A total of 49 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise. Police and army personnel will provide security at more than 93,000 polling stations nationwide. Twenty-seven companies of soldiers will assist police in ensuring that people who want to vote can do so, said Chalerm Yubamrung, the director of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO).
The CMPO would use its authority under an emergency decree to ensure smooth polling, Chalerm, also the caretaker Labour Minister, said referring to the 60-day emergency imposed last week in Bangkok and nearby areas to tackle months of unrest.
Unfazed by threats from political rivals to block vote, Yingluck today rebutted the opposition Democrat Party’s claim that the election was “unconstitutional”.
“What does unconstitutional mean? The 2007 charter, particularly the section on election regulations, was altered by the Democrat-led government, not this administration,” she said. Yingluck asked people to trust the Election Commission (EC), which is responsible for free and fair polls. Protesters have vowed to disrupt voting and block roads leading to polling stations tomorrow, raising doubts about the legitimacy of the snap polls called by Yingluck in a bid to end nearly three months of street rallies, sometimes violent.
Poll watchers fear that there could be confrontations between pro-government “red shirt” supporters and anti-government “yellow shirts” and opposition members. The protesters have threatened to completely shutdown Bangkok on Sunday and allow only pedestrians by blocking all roads to make it difficult for the people to cast their ballot. Yingluck has said she would exercise her right to vote and asked protesters not to prevent others from going to polls. “I appeal for you not to block voting. Foreign countries will view Thailand as undemocratic,” she said.