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Protesters begin 'shutdown' in Thailand

Protesters begin shutdown in Thailand

Bangkok: Anti-government protesters Monday begun blocking key intersections across the congested Thai capital in their bid to "shutdown" the city and force embattled Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.

One protester was shot and injured while he was guarding a barrier at the Chaeng Wattana rally site here late last night by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle, police said.

The opposition Democrat party, which has not won polls in two decades, has been venting its ire against the Yingluck government for two months now holding protest marches here.

The protesters want Yingluck and her brother former premier Thaksin Shinawatra out of Thai politics. Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in 2006 and is in self-exile in Dubai.

Yingluck has called for snap polls on February 2 following weeks of opposition protests. But the opposition has said it will boycott the polls. Today is their first massive protest aimed at shutting down the city.

The Democrats have said they will boycott the elections.

Ruling Pheu Thai Party leader and caretaker Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said the government was ready to consider the Election Commission (EC) proposal that the polls be postponed, but said the agency should state why it believed the election would go smoothly if it was held on May 4.

"Has the EC gone to soothsayers, such as ET?" Charupong said in a reference to E Thi, Myanmar's most famous fortune- teller. Charupong said that legally, the election could not be postponed beyond February 6, as the election law stated it must be held within 60 days of a House dissolution.

The only exceptions are in cases of disasters or riots, and only in the affected areas, not nationwide. "If we postpone because of fears that there would be violence, it would set a bad precedent for future elections," he said.

Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit yesterday submitted a letter to the EC to show the party's stance that the poll must be held on February 2, since a budget of over 3.8 billion baht has been allocated for the agency to do this.

The protesters want an appointed "people's council" to run the country before general elections are held.

Thaksin, a billionaire telecoms tycoon-turned-politician, lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, and has a large electoral support base in northern and north eastern Thailand.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party MP, expects a large turnout for the latest demonstration.

Several schools and local universities are closed.

The Indian embassy here has advised its nationals to be vigilant and stay away from areas where protests are being held.

Eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and dozens injured in street violence since the protests began in late October.

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