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Thailand: Red shirt leader shot and wounded as state of emergency imposed

By Kocha Olarn and Jethro Mullen, CNN
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A leading red shirt in northeast Thailand is shot and wounded outside his home
  • NEW: His wounds aren't life threatening, police say, but the act may be politically driven
  • The government has imposed a state of emergency after a series of violent attacks
  • Thousands of protesters have rallied in Bangkok ahead of February 2 elections

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Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- A prominent Thai political activist was shot and wounded Wednesday, the day after the national government declared a state of emergency amid violence-plagued protests in Bangkok, a police official said.

Unidentified people in a pickup truck opened fire on Kwanchai Praipana, a local leader of the pro-government "red shirt" movement, outside his home in Udon Thani province in northeastern Thailand, said police official Col. Kovit Charionwattanasak.

His wounds aren't life-threatening, Kovit said.

Police suspect the shooting may be politically motivated, he said, but they haven't ruled out a connection to Kwanchai's "personal conflicts."

Thailand's political unrest turns violent

The attack is likely to fan tensions in Thailand's political crisis. In Bangkok, demonstrations against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been hit by attacks with explosives in the past week that have killed one person and wounded dozens.

The violence, whose perpetrators haven't been identified, prompted authorities to impose the state of emergency, which went into effect Wednesday and lasts 60 days.

The emergency decree gives authorities the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without court permission, censor media and declare parts of the capital off-limits.

Political divide

The red shirts -- who draw their support from the populous, less affluent northeast of Thailand -- support Yingluck's government. On the other side of the country's political divide are the anti-government protesters, who are loosely allied with the opposition Democrat Party.

Since the protesters began their campaign against Yingluck's government in November, at least nine people have died and hundreds have been wounded, according to authorities.

In a bid to resolve the crisis, Yingluck dissolved parliament last month and called for new elections to be held February 2.

But the move has done little to appease protesters. They have called on Yingluck to step down from her caretaker position and be replaced by an unelected "people's council," which would see through electoral and political changes.

They want the elections postponed, and the Democrat Party has said it will boycott the vote.

Protesters remain on streets

Thailand's national security chief, Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathubut said the emergency decree had been considered because "we are predicting that (the) situation might get more violent" as the vote nears.

"We are witnessing more gun shootings and bomb incidents on the streets of Bangkok," he said.

Thai PM talks amid unrest

Thousands of protesters have remained on the streets ahead of the elections.

The latest round of demonstrations, which began last week, was aimed at shutting down Bangkok. They have succeeded in disrupting traffic at major intersections in the city, but their numbers have fallen significantly since the initial rallies.

Protest leaders have said they want to rid Thailand of the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the older brother of Yingluck.

Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has spent most of the time since then in exile overseas. If he returns, he risks a two-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction, which he says was politically motivated.

They say Yingluck is merely a puppet of Thaksin, a divisive figure who built his support on populist policies that pleased residents of the north and northeast. Yingluck has repeatedly denied her brother calls the shots in the government.

The protest movement in Bangkok began as an angry response to a botched attempt by Yingluck's government to pass an amnesty bill that would have opened the door for Thaksin's return.

Thailand's worst bout of civil unrest took place in 2010, when the government -- run at the time by the Democrat Party -- ordered a crackdown on red shirt protesters, leaving about 90 people dead.

Read: Thai protest in Bangkok: 28 injured in explosions

Read: What's behind the protests in Thailand?

Read: Updated info for tourists

CNN's Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report.

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