Thailand's red shirt leader shot; police pick up 42 bullet casings

A PROMINENT leader of Thailand's pro-government "red shirt" movement, was shot this morning outside his office in Udon Thani and is in intensive care at a local hospital.

Mr Kwanchai Praiphana, who is said to be in stable condition now, is a key mobiliser for the red shirts and had his own radio station.

Reports said a gunman opened fire at him with an AK47 automatic rifle, from a Toyota pickup truck, at a range of about 100m.

A police source told The Straits Times 42 bullet casings were found at the scene, and Mr Kwanchai had been hit in the right arm and leg while he was sitting outside his office drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.

The attack came as Thailand's capital woke up today to a state of emergency across the city and in three adjacent provinces - Nonthaburi, and parts of Pathum Thani and Samut Prakarn.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters this morning the army would support the police, but he was worried about "social divisions'' and animosity between anti-government protesters and the police.

Urging all sides to refrain from violence, he cautioned that the army would step in if the situation got "out of hand".

Meanwhile the Constitution Court has been asked today by the Election Commission (EC) to issue an opinion on who has the authority to delay the mid-term election scheduled for Feb 2.

The EC has been lobbying the government to delay the polls, saying they will not produce a sitting parliament. The government has been determined to go ahead with the election, saying it is mandated by the constitution and endorsed by a royal decree.

Anti-government protesters from the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) bent on forcing prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office, are continuing their rallies in Bangkok, saying they will defy the emergency decree which empowers security authorities - led by the police force - to detain suspects without charges, declare curfews and enforce a prohibition on public gatherings.

A group of protesters at the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police in downtown Bangkok, has threatened to storm the compound. Elsewhere the rallies remained thinly attended but peaceful, with key intersections still blocked.

The attempted killing on Mr Kwanchai, who is in intensive care at the Aek Udon hospital after being hit an unknown number of times when the gunman sprayed bullets at him, may enrage pro-government red shirts.

The portly, tough-talking Mr Kwanchai had just days ago urged his supporters to donate one baht (S$0.04) each to set up a 500,000 baht bounty for the "arrest" of PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, in the name of "protecting democracy".

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