- NEW: At least six are wounded, medical center says
- At least eight gunmen emerge from the ranks of the anti-government protests
- They open fire for about 30 minutes toward police and pro-government demonstrators
- Elections kick off Sunday, but anti-government protesters want to stop them
Gunfire erupted during anti-government protests in Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday, witnesses said. At least six people were wounded, Erawan Medical Centre said.
The violence comes amid high tensions a day ahead of national elections.
Witnesses saw at least eight gunmen emerge from the ranks of the anti-government protests and open fire for about 30 minutes toward police and pro-government demonstrators.
It was not clear if anyone fired back.
In addition, a local journalist was injured by a firecracker hurled by someone in the crowd, according to witnesses. Anti-government demonstrators say they will keep up protests and attempt to shut down Thailand’s capital city during elections.
They have been campaigning for months against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, fueling unrest that previously left 10 people dead and hundreds more wounded.
Yingluck called the elections in December in a bid to ease mounting tensions on the streets of Bangkok. But the demonstrators and the main opposition party with which they’re affiliated have already rejected the vote. Yingluck’s party is expected to win comfortably.
Her brother Thaksin Shinawatra is a business tycoon, who became Prime Minister before being overthrown in a military coup. He has since lived in exile, but his opponents accuse him of dominating politics from afar, including through Yingluck.
Lead up to gunfire
Before the gunfire broke out, protesters attempted to foil elections by interfering with preparations, CNN’s Saima Mohsin reported from Bangkok.
Some of them camped out at a center that is providing ballot boxes for the election and blocked police from entering it to inspect the boxes, a necessary measure before voting may proceed.
They vowed to block the delivery of the ballot boxes to prevent the election from going forward.
Police were able to coax them away, but afterward, more protesters from both groups converged on the spot, the Laksi intersection, a major traffic spot in the capital.
Gunshots rang out and people ducked. Rapid gunfire continued, mixed in with the sound of fireworks.
Gun smoke filled the air. “I could taste it; I could smell it,” Mohsin said.
There were few security forces present to respond. Around 20 police officers and a dozen soldiers crouched behind their vehicles to avoid flying bullets.
Authorities have said that 10,000 security personnel are on standby.
The political elbowing goes beyond Bangkok’s streets and has spread dirty politics into many provinces, where some constituents have no candidates to represent them in the election, Mohsin reported.
They were blocked from registering to run for election. Many voters are being blocked from participating in the vote.
The lasting political instability has created fears of chaos in Thailand, which was shaken by severe bout of violence four years ago. The concerns have already hurt the country’s lucrative tourist industry and undermined investment in one of Southeast Asia’s main economies.