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Election Eve

Rival groups clash at Lak Si

A group of men supporting today

A group of men supporting today

Many seek shelter in mall after gunshots near district office; soldiers intervene to restore peace

Violence continued yesterday in the face of anti-government rallies with shots fired at Bangkok's Lak Si intersection, which saw at least four people wounded by gunshots and three slightly injured by giant firecrackers.

Police and army officers, meanwhile, were looking to set up 60 additional checkpoints until tomorrow. Some 34 checkpoints have already been set up.

Police also plan to send 88 rapid-response units to join the Army in beefing up security in the 50 districts in Bangkok, plus six districts in Nonthaburi, Lat Lum Kaew in Pathum Thani and Bang Phli in Samut Prakan, according to police deputy spokesman Pol Maj-General Anucha Rommayanant.

At least seven people were injured in clashes between red shirts and protesters led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee outside the Lak Si district office yesterday afternoon.

The confrontation occurred after Luangpu Puttha Issara, a monk who has headed the rally at Chaeng Wattana, led protesters to surround the district office to prevent the transport of ballots and ballot boxes to polling stations.

While the PDRC protesters were rallying, hardline red-shirt leader Wutthipong Kachatham, or Ko Tee, led some 200 red shirts to confront the protesters. Nation Channel reported that sounds of explosions were heard four times while the two sides were about 800 metres from each other - believed to be giant firecrackers. A car was also reportedly smashed amid the chaos.

At around 4pm, two firecracker explosions were heard under an overpass at the Lak Si intersection and three people were slightly injured, including Jirawat Sukanon, a Daily News reporter, who suffered wounds to his mouth and nose.

Up to 40 gunshots and several giant firecracker explosions were then heard. It was later reported that at least one person was wounded by a gunshot in front of the nearby IT Square Mall, which shut shortly after.

PDRC protesters at the Lat Phrao intersection sent men to rescue fellow protesters at the district office compound.

As gunshots continued to be fired in the Lak Si intersection area, some 30 bystanders were caught up on a nearby pedestrian bridge and barged through the mall's doors to seek refuge inside the building.

Bystanders, security personnel and journalists raced to take cover in the mall after a man pulled out an assault rifle from a bag and began spraying bullets during a stand-off between government supporters and scores of opposition demonstrators, an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene said.

The firing went on for at least one hour. Emergency workers said several people have been injured in the fighting, which broke out as anti-government groups laid siege to a ballot box distribution centre in the Thai capital.

"One victim was apparently shot in the chest and was hospitalised," an official from the city's Erawan emergency centre said, adding that two others had also been taken to hospital.

At least two explosions were heard in the area, which police attributed to Molotov cocktails, before the firing began. The AFP reporter said there were volleys of heavy gunfire in the area at one point.

At 5.30pm Colonel Songwit Noonpakdee, commander of the 11th Infantry Regiment (King's Guard) went to observe the situation at the Lak Si intersection. He ordered soldiers to go to the back of Chaeng Wattana soi 10, where the Lak Si district office is, to prevent more people being mobi-lised. Meanwhile, troops tried to help people trapped in the area to get out.

At the same time, Nation Channel reported that another gunfight had erupted at the Lak Si intersection. At around 5.40pm, PDRC leader Somchai Issara urged supporters to retreat from there so that soldiers could clear the area in front of the mall.

As a precaution, the State Railway of Thailand at 5.15pm announced the closure of services at Laksi and Don Muang to ensure passengers' safety.

Earlier in the morning, a 10-wheel truck belonging to the PDRC blocking the Lak Si district office was shot up with 7-9 bullets, but there were no reports of injuries. There was another shooting at 2am, along with a giant firecrackers hurled at protesters camping at the Lat Phrao intersection, but no one was injured.

Protest guards said a sedan passed by the rally site before multiple gunshots were heard, so they alerted soldiers manning a nearby checkpoint to investigate. It was initially suspected that an ill-intentioned person had thrown the firecrackers to intimidate the protesters.



Problems aplenty

Eligible voters: nationwide: 48,774,915 Bangkok: 4,363,115

Constituencies: nationwide: 375 Bangkok 33, Central (26 provinces) 97, North (16 provinces) 66, Northeast (20 provinces) 126, South (14 provinces) 53

Election units: nationwide: 93,305 Bangkok 6,671

Problems related to the election:

_ Ballot cards in the South could not be delivered.

_ Election equipment was blockaded at district offices in Bangkok.

_ Election units face blockades.

_ Possibility of clashes

_ The election cannot be done in one day nationwide (no constituency MP candidate in 28 constituencies in eight provinces in the South, only one candidate in 16 constituencies in nine provinces, advance voting was blocked and must be postponed till February 23)

_ Vote results for both constituency and party-list MPs cannot be announced until the election is completed.






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