Poll delay call after violence erupts in Thailand

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Thailand’s election commission has urged the government to delay polls scheduled for February 2.

The announcement followed seven hours of violent protests yesterday outside a sports stadium being used by candidates to draw lots for their position on polling papers for the vote.

The call by the commission will add to the political uncertainty gripping the nation.

In a statement, the commission said it was urging the government to consider “postponing the elections”, citing the lack of “peace” between the government and protesters.

Earlier, a police officer was killed in the clashes in Bangkok as protesters trying to halt preparations for elections fought running battles with police as Thailand’s political crisis again flared into violence.

Police spokesman Anucha Romyana said the officer died after being airlifted to a hospital.

It is unclear how the officer died, but police had said that an officer had been struck by a bullet during the clashes.

At least 60 people have been injured in the day of unrest.

Officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets toward protesters trying to force their way into the sports stadium.

The demonstrators, some armed with sling shots, threw rocks and attempted to break through police lines.

Inside the stadium, candidates for at least 27 parties took part in the lot-drawing process, which apparently went on unaffected despite the turmoil outside the gates.

Three officers were injured, said police colonel Anucha Romyanan. He urged the demonstrators to assemble peacefully and said “attempts are being made to escalate the political situation by causing violence”.

It was the first violent incident in nearly two weeks of daily protests on the streets of Bangkok.

The protesters have been demanding that prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down since mid-October, and street unrest has occasionally broken out.

They oppose the polls scheduled for February 2 because Ms Yingluck is seen as sure to win them.

Police have largely shown restraint and have made no move to arrest the ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented.

Thailand has been wracked by political conflict since Ms Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a 2006 military coup.

The protesters accuse Ms Yingluck of being a proxy for her brother, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields influence in the country.

He or his allies have won every election since 2001 thanks to strong support in the north of the country. His supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok’s elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class, which have strong links to the royal family.

On Wednesday, Ms Yingluck announced a proposal for a national reform council to come up with a compromise to the crisis, but it was rejected by the protesters.

They now plan more civil disobedience and street protests in a bid to provoke such chaos that she will be forced to resign.

The country’s main opposition party, which is allied with the protesters, is boycotting the elections, which Ms Yingluck called early
in hopes of giving her a fresh
mandate and defusing the
crisis.