Thailand’s pro-govt protest leader wounded in shooting

A file photo taken on April 28, 2010 shows Kwanchai Praipana (center) speaking on a microphone during “Red Shirt” anti-government protests in central Bangkok. AFP PHOTO

A file photo taken on April 28, 2010 shows Kwanchai Praipana (center) speaking on a microphone during “Red Shirt” anti-government protests in central Bangkok. AFP PHOTO

BANGKOK: A leader of Thailand’s pro-government “Red Shirt” movement was wounded Wednesday in a shooting in the northeast, stirring tensions as opposition protesters ignored a state of emergency imposed in the capital.

Local radio host Kwanchai Praipana, one of the main figures behind the Red Shirts’ mass rallies in 2010 in Bangkok that ended in a bloody military crackdown, was shot in the shoulder and knee by an unidentified man, police said.

“It’s likely that the motive for the shooting is political,” Police Colonel Kowit Charoenwattanasak told Agence France-Presse by telephone from the province of Udon Thani, adding Kwanchai’s life was not in danger.

The attack came as a state of emergency went into force in Bangkok and nearby areas to deal with mass protests trying to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office.

The Red Shirts are broadly loyal to Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as prime minister by the military seven years ago and lives in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption.

While they have largely remained on the sidelines during the current protests, Red Shirt leaders have warned that their supporters could rise up if a government which they helped to elect is removed from power again.

Yingluck is under intense pressure to step down after more than two months of street rallies aimed at ousting her elected government and installing an unelected “people’s council”.

“We’re not taking any notice of the state of emergency and are continuing our protest as usual,” said rally spokesman Akanat Promphan.

“It shows that the government is getting desperate because the momentum is with us.”

Nine people have been killed and hundreds injured in grenade attacks, drive-by shootings and street clashes since the rallies began at the end of October.

The backdrop to the protests is a years-long political struggle pitting the kingdom’s royalist establishment against Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician.

The 60-day state of emergency hands broad powers to the security forces.

When the decree was last imposed by the previous government during “Red Shirts” rallies in 2010, more than 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 injured in a crackdown by soldiers firing live rounds and backed by armoured vehicles.

But Yingluck’s government said Wednesday that, unlike on that occasion, it had no plans to impose a curfew, restrict public gatherings or censor media.

“The decree is meant to be a deterrent. In no way should there be the use of force, and utmost restraint will be the order of the day,” Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuanggetkeow told reporters.

Yingluck has called an election for February 2 but the main opposition party is boycotting the vote.

The Election Commission on Wednesday asked the Constitutional Court to delay the polls due to the unrest, after the government rejected its call for a postponement.



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