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Thai Protesters Fail to Halt Party Registrations

A man slides down a snow-covered hill in the northwest of Washington, D.C. Some 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) of snow fell in the city overnight. Schools and government offices closed Tuesday.
A man slides down a snow-covered hill in the northwest of Washington, D.C. Some 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) of snow fell in the city overnight. Schools and government offices closed Tuesday.
Thousands of anti-government protesters in the Thai capital, Bangkok, failed to halt political party registration for the February 2 polls. As protesters blockaded the main registration site, political parties evaded them to sign up.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters surrounded a sports stadium in central Bangkok that was the main registration venue, but candidates from 35 political parties still succeeded in registering Monday.

Some managed to evade protesters in pre-dawn hours, arriving well before sunrise to ensure they can take part. But several dozen other party leaders and supporters who arrived later were forced to retreat to a nearby police station after being challenged by protesters.

Prasaeng Mongkonsiri, advisor to the newly registered Democratic Force Party, was among those forced to take refuge in a nearby police station. Speaking to VOA by phone, he said the election is the best way to ease weeks of political tensions.

"I don't think we should have any problem because we are now in the process of election application. We believe the election is the peaceful solution for the country's problems -- the only way to solve the problem peacefully. So many parties attend the election application this morning," he said.

Prasaeng said three gunshots had been fired into the third floor of the station, where 100 people were inside. No one was reported injured. But electricity and water to the building had been cut.

The Thai Election Commission cautioned that the election still could be postponed, but announced no changes in the timetable.

Anti-government protests began in November over a controversial government-backed blanket amnesty bill. But since then they have escalated with several rallies, led by a former opposition member of parliament, Suthep Thaungsuban, drawing tens of thousands to rallies opposing the government.

The protest's main call is for an end to the influence of the Prime Minister's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, over the administration. Mr. Thaksin lives in self imposed exile to avoid a two year jail term for corruption. The current government has also faced charges of corruption linked to its populist economic policies.

Protester Khun Maew fears a return of the Pheu Thai-led government will led to further charges of misuse of power and state funds.

She says she wants to see political reforms in place. Otherwise those elected backed by Mr. Thaksin and the Pheu Thai Party will fail to improve the country's outlook, especially over corruption fears.

Other protestors were confident the rallies would lead to the February vote being postponed.

The government, however has vowed the polls will go forward as planned.

Yingluck, campaigning in the governing party's stronghold in the northern provinces, says the elections are necessary to ease political tensions.

But fears are growing that tensions will rise as the polls near. Pro-government Red Shirt supporters in provincial regions are increasingly angered over protester's calls for Yingluck to resign.

Panitan Wattanaygorn, a political scientist and former government spokesman under the Democrat Party, says the Thai Army is increasingly concerned over an escalation in violence.

"The army in particular is very concerned with the confrontation between the various political supporters. On election day if you have a confrontation everywhere in 77 provinces that would stretch out the limitation of the manpower of the military or the police to stabilize the situation," said Panitan Wattanaygorn.

Thailand is now facing increasing tensions, as both Ms. Yingluck insists elections press ahead while the anti-government protest leaders threaten to maintain their rallies in a bid to force the government from office.
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