Gunfire, explosions injure six in Bangkok ahead of Thai elections

BANGKOK - An armed clash near a popular Information Technology mall in the Thai capital has left at least six including one journalist injured from gunfire and explosions, eyewitness accounts say.

Shooting and explosions rang through the busy Laksi area, sending people scrambling for cover. Pictures from the spot showed one man wounded by gunfire, and shoppers and passersby cowering inside buildings and behind walls. Famed photojournalist James Nachtwey was among the injured.

The gunfire erupted at the Laksi intersection late afternoon and was still continuing an hour or more later, reports said. At least two explosions were heard in the area before the firing began.

"The clash point is the intersection, gun shots seemed to be fired from both sides," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, who was at the scene, told AFP. The firing started after talks between the rival groups broke down in the area, which is roughly split between Yingluck's supporters and those backing the opposition protests, Mr Sunai added.

The clash appeared to be between pro- and anti-government groups, ahead of a contentious election on Sunday which opposition demonstrators have vowed to block as they seek to prevent the likely re-election of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The anti-government group had been blockading a nearby district office to prevent the distribution of ballot papers before the pro-government group turned up. Similar action has been taking place in southern Thailand, a stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party which is boycotting the election.

More violence is expected on the election day as radical elements among the protest group Peoples Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) try to block the conduct of the poll.

The group is opposed to the election, saying it will only bring the Puea Thai party backed by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to power again. It has vowed to "eradicate the Thaksin regime" from Thailand, accusing it of massive corruption.

The danger is that pro-government elements will fight to save the election process.

While the PDRC has pledged a peaceful protest against the election, there are armed militant elements on both sides of Thailand's bitter political divide. Analysts have warned of a slide into civil war if violence escalates; clashes thus far in several weeks of protest, have left almost a dozen dead and scores injured.

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