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Polls Open in Thai Elections, Tensions Simmer in Bangkok

Polls have opened in Thailand's tense national elections, called in December by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to defuse protests aimed at toppling her government.

The main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the elections, and protesters were reported to still be in the streets of Bangkok as polls opened Sunday. They have vowed to obstruct the voting, and on Saturday protesters in the capital moved to block the distribution of ballots.

Dozens of gunshots were reported Saturday in northern Bangkok, with the city's main English-language newspaper, the Bangkok Post, reporting at least six people wounded. The report said the Thai Elections Commission is keeping 158 polling stations in the Lak Si district closed Sunday and that voting there would take place at a later date.

Protests and violence erupted three months ago when the prime minister's ruling Pheu Thai party sought to grant amnesty to Ms. Yingluck's brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, remains very influential in Thailand, even though he was convicted of corruption and lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai.

Bangkok's urban middle class and royalist elite are opposed to the amnesty and have responded to its proposal with calls to oust the government.



Protesters say the vote should not be held before widespread reforms take place, while Prime Minister Yingluck insists the election is the only legitimate way to end the political stalemate.

The election commission had called for the vote to be delayed, citing fears of violence that has killed at least 10 people since November.

The Thai army has increased its presence in the capital to prevent further unrest during the elections and a state of emergency has already been declared.

The military, which has staged 18 coups in the past 81 years, has said it will not interfere in the political situation, unless absolutely necessary.

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