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Bangkok braces for more violence as tens of thousands of protesters descend to oust Thailand governm


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Bangkok is bracing itself.


Seven people have been shot and injured today, raising the spectre of more violence in the coming days as anywhere up to 100,000 protesters are expected to descend on the city, united in one aim: forcing out the government.


The authorities are planning to deploy more than 14,000 soldiers and police to try and maintain order. One foreign embassy has warned its expatriate citizens to stock up on two weeks supply of food, water and medicine. Fears simmer – as they so often do – of a military coup.


In the early hours of today, gunmen opened fire on anti-government protesters. The incident followed clashes between government supporters and protesters on Friday outside of Bangkok that left at least six people injured.


Thailand’s army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said he feared things were going to get worse. “I am concerned about security because there will be many people. The violence is increasing,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency. “We can think differently but we cannot kill each other. Please don’t use violence.”


In the latest of a series of protests that have rocked Bangkok in recent months, sent the Baht tumbling and persuaded many tourists to go elsewhere, anti-government protesters plan to shut-down government offices, block major road intersections and even cut-off electricity supplies in an attempt to derail the authorities’ ability to govern.


Schools will be shut, though many shopping malls are expected to remain open. Protesters have vowed not to interfere with the operation of the airports, as previously happened, but nothing can be taken for granted.


The demonstrators are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy-prime minister who in October 2013 resigned from his position as a member of parliament and a senior figure within the opposition Democrat Party in order to lead the protests.


Mr Suthep and his supporters are seeking the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai-led government, which came to power after a convicting election win in 2011. They claim Ms Yingluck is nothing more than a front for her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier who was ousted in a coup 2006 and who now lives in enforced exile in Dubai. They accuse him of widespread corruption and nepotism.


Late last year, the 64-year-old Mr Suthep, a former shrimp-farm and palm-oil tycoon, led a series of debilitating protests that shut down parts of Bangkok after Ms Yingluck and her government tried to pass an amnesty bill that would allowed her brother to return to Thailand.


Confronted by the scale of the protests and cautious of spilling blood on the streets, Ms Yingluck not only dropped the bill but announced she was terminating the government and set a new election for 2 February.


But the protesters have not backed down. Mr Suthep has called for an overhaul of Thai politics and said it must take place before any new election. The opposition Democrat Party, the country’s oldest political party, has said it will boycott any election, raising more uncertainty.


Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for an anti-government group and another former Democrat party member of parliament who resigned to join the protests, said the movement had “gone beyond party politics”. Speaking from Bangkok, he claimed “millions” of people would join the demonstrations on Monday.


“You have to understand this is nothing to do with any political party,” said Mr Promphan, of a group named the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).


Asked why the group simply did not compete in the upcoming election, Mr Akanat said a series of reforms – of the electoral system, of the police service and of the constitution – were needed before a vote would have any meaning. “We are not doing away with elections all together. [but] we want reform before an election.”


Yet the government of Ms Yingluck, along with many analysts, say that after a series of defeats at the ballot box, the opposition has essentially turned its back on electoral democracy. Rather, it wants to replace the elected government with an appointed “people’s council”.


“This a huge tragedy for the democratic system, not just for us but for all 50 parties that want to contest the election,” said Sean Boonpracong, a national security adviser to the government, who said the country was facing a “possible abyss”


He added: “We have our backs against the wall. From our point of view, the election must go ahead to give us legitimacy.”

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