Anti-government protesters battle with riot police at the
gate of the gymnasium where candidates are due to register
for the upcoming elections during a rally at the Thai-Japan
youth stadium in Bangkok. Photo by Reuters
Thai police fired teargas at anti-government protesters
in the capital Bangkok after demonstrators tried to disrupt
planning for a February election, the first such incident in
nearly two weeks.
While only a small confrontation between police and
protesters angry with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the
incident came a day after the government extended a special
security law for another two months.
Yingluck remains caretaker prime minister after calling a
snap election for February 2 in an attempt to deflate weeks
of mainly peaceful protests that, at their peak, have drawn
200,000 people onto the streets of Bangkok.
The protesters draw their strength from Bangkok's middle
class and elite who dismiss Yingluck as a puppet of her
self-exiled elder brother, former premier and
telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin and Yingluck have their power base in the rural north
and northeast. Their opponents accuse Thaksin of manipulating
the poor in those areas with populist policies such as cheap
healthcare and easy credit.
About 500 protesters gathered outside a Bangkok gymnasium
early on Thursday where Thailand's Election Commission is
working through the process of registering candidates for the
Thai media reported that representatives of a number of
parties planning to contest the election were inside the
building at the time. Calls by Reuters reporters to officials
inside could not be connected.
Police warned the protesters not to try to enter the building
and then fired several rounds of teargas when demonstrators
tried to break down a fence.
Reuters reporters at the scene said police also fired rubber
The protesters, some of whom had been throwing rocks, soon
withdrew from the front of the compound.
Several protesters were affected by teargas but no one was
seriously hurt, Reuters witnesses said. The protesters are
well prepared for such clashes, the last of which happened
about two weeks ago. Many carry goggles and masks to cover
their faces and water bottles to wash out their eyes.
The clash came a day after the Thai cabinet voted to extend
the Internal Security Act by another two months.
The law, widened last month to cover all of the capital and
nearby areas, allows police to ban gatherings, block routes,
impose curfews and carry out searches, although such actions
have been used sparingly.
Protesters, led by fiery former deputy premier Suthep
Thaugsuban, have vowed to disrupt the election and hound
Yingluck from office. They want an unelected "people's
council" to rule before elections are called.
The election has been made more uncertain by a boycott by the
main opposition Democrat Party, which draws its support from
Bangkok and the south, the same base as Suthep's group.
Also on Wednesday, Yingluck proposed the creation of an
independent reform council to run alongside the elected
government, an apparent attempt at compromise that was
immediately rejected by the protesters.
Yingluck has not been in the capital for most of the past
week, choosing instead to shore up her support in her power
base to the north, and will not return to Bangkok until the
Her Puea Thai Party is almost certain to win the election,
just as Thaksin's populist political juggernaut has won every
vote since 2001. That run of success has come despite violent
street protests and judicial and military intervention around
Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 coup and has lived in
self-imposed exile since 2008, when he was sentenced to two
years in jail for graft charges he says were politically
The first two years of Yingluck's government had been
relatively smooth, until her party miscalculated in November
and tried to push an amnesty bill through parliament that
would have allowed her brother to return home a free man.