One killed in Bangkok as protesters blockade polling centres

AN anti-government protest leader was shot dead on Sunday as protesters blockaded polling stations to stop advance voting for the Feb 2 general election.

The protest leader, Mr Suthin Taratin, was reportedly killed as violence flared in Bangkok's Bang Na district.

Voting was disrupted or abandoned on Sunday in several parts of Bangkok and the southern provinces.

Protesters determined to oust the caretaker government surrounded polling stations before daylight, preventing election officials from entering and in some cases even manhandled voters who turned up.

About mid-day, 42 out of the 639 polling stations in Thailand's 12 southern provinces had to be closed due to protests, according to information released by the state security authority Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order. Meanwhile, polling was abandoned in more than 30 out of Bangkok's 50 voting centres.

Polling in the rest of Thailand's 76 provinces carried on without incident. About 2 million out of roughly 50 million eligible voters had applied to cast their ballots in advance.

Election officials stressed that voters who could not vote today would not forfeit their right to vote on Feb 2, but angry voters rallied at at least one Bangkok district office to complain that polling officers had caved in too easily.

"The election commission has to at least try to work!" they shouted outside the district office of Lat Krabang in Bangkok.

Caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai party is expected to win the general election, but protesters insist its dominance is due to vote-buying and have spent the past few weeks trying to sabotage the polls.

The protesters, led by the self-titled People's Democratic Reform Committee, are supported by the royalist establishment, urban middle class, as well as scores of people from southern Thailand - the stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party which is boycotting the polls.

Until last Friday, the election commission and caretaker government had been wrangling over the possibility of postponing the election. The commission, citing fears of disruption and violence, wants to postpone the polls, but the caretaker government had insisted that neither it nor the commission had the power to delay polls.

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