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Protests delay elections in Bangkok district

By Ben Brumfield and Kocha Olarn, CNN
February 2, 2014 -- Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT)
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban greets supporters during a march in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, February 3. Anti-government protesters disrupted voting in roughly one-fifth of Thailand's electoral districts in national elections Sunday, February 2, authorities said. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban greets supporters during a march in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, February 3. Anti-government protesters disrupted voting in roughly one-fifth of Thailand's electoral districts in national elections Sunday, February 2, authorities said.
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Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
Protests in Thailand's national election
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Anti-government protesters successfully delayed elections in Bangkok's Laksi district
  • At least seven people were wounded in the Saturday violence, medical officials say
  • At least eight gunmen emerged from the ranks of the anti-government protests
  • They opened fire for about 30 minutes toward police and pro-government demonstrators

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Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Anti-government protesters in Thailand can consider this round of resistance a success, after getting Sunday's national elections delayed in the Bangkok district of Laksi.

National security chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told CNN that Laksi postponed balloting for approximately 87,000 voters because demonstrators were blocking the administration office where the ballot boxes are kept. The make-up voting date is yet to be determined.

Laksi, a district of mixed pro- and anti-government sentiment, witnessed violent protests on Saturday, when gunfire erupted during anti-government protests, witnesses said. At least seven people were wounded, Erawan Medical Centre said.

The violence came amid high tensions a day ahead of 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 whether anyone fired back. Of those injured, one remains in the intensive care unit, the medical center said.

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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.

Police initially 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.

No further violence erupted overnight, but protesters were able to keep authorities from reaching the ballot boxes on Sunday.

Political battles

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.

CNN's Ben Brumfield reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok. CNN's Mark Morgenstein and Journalist Kiki Dhitavat contributed to this report

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