• Shots rattle Thai capital as PM flees capital

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    Anti-government protesters hold posters of victims of a recent bomb blast, six-year-old Patcharakorn Yosubon (left) and her brother four-year-old Koravitch Yosubon (center), as they march in a rally outside the national police headquarters in Bangkok on Wednesday. AFP PHOTO\ Kevin Lau, former editor of the Ming Pao newspaper, speaking to the media outside the Ming Pao Building in the Chai Wan district of Hong Kong island.  AFP PHOTO

    Anti-government protesters hold posters of victims of a recent bomb blast, six-year-old Patcharakorn Yosubon (left) and her brother four-year-old Koravitch Yosubon (center), as they march in a rally outside the national police headquarters in Bangkok on Wednesday. AFP PHOTO

    BANGKOK: Gunmen opened fire near several opposition protest sites in Bangkok on Wednesday, stoking tensions in the capital as Thailand’s embattled prime minister flew to her political stronghold in the north.

    Street violence, often targeting protesters, has become a near-daily feature of the almost four-month-long crisis gripping Thailand, with the toll standing at 22 dead and hundreds wounded.

    Police said unknown gunmen fired sporadically on Wednesday for around an hour in three areas of Bangkok where demonstrators are camped out alongside upscale shopping malls and luxury hotels. Nobody was wounded.

    “We don’t know which side fired the shots, but the aim of the gunmen is to intimidate,” said deputy national police spokesman Anucha Romyanan.

    Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is under intense pressure to step down with the protesters calling for an unelected “people’s council” to tackle corruption and a culture of money politics.

    Her supporters say they will not accept the removal of an elected government by the protesters, military or the courts, raising fears of a protracted standoff.

    Yingluck has been summoned by an anti-graft panel on Thursday to hear charges of neglect of duty in connection with a rice subsidy scheme that the opposition says is rife with corruption.

    If found guilty she could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics.

    Yingluck flew to the northern city of Chiang Rai on Wednesday to inspect government-backed projects, saying she might not attend the National Anti-Corruption Commission hearing.

    “I have not yet made up my mind,” Yingluck told reporters when asked if she would face the panel.

    But a government official who did not want to be named said Yingluck was expected to stay in northern Thailand until Friday.

    Officials denied the premier was on the run from protesters, who have vowed to pursue her wherever she goes and have besieged state buildings where she has held cabinet meetings since the occupation of her headquarters in December.

    “She is not avoiding the political situation in Bangkok,” said Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt.

    AFP

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