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Thai Protesters, Police Clash in Bangkok

  • VOA News

Riot policemen fire rubber bullets during clashes with anti-government protesters at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok, Dec. 26, 2013.
Thailand's political crisis again turned violent Thursday, as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters trying to disrupt preparations for an upcoming election.

The clashes began after protesters ignored police warnings and stormed a sports stadium in Bangkok where officials were registering candidates for the February 2 vote.

The protesters hurled rocks at police, but later withdrew and the election preparations continued as usual. There were no reports of serious injuries.

Opposition protesters have staged weeks of protests in an attempt to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office. Yingluck has called for an early election and dissolved parliament, but refuses to resign.

On Wednesday, she proposed the creation of an independent national reform council that would work alongside the new government.

The protesters, led by ex-Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, immediately rejected the proposal, saying reforms should be undertaken before the vote.

The main opposition Democrat Party says it will boycott the election; the prime minister's Pheu Thai Party was already widely predicted to win.

Protesters say the prime minister's removal is necessary to purge the country of corruption and money politics. They view Yingluck as a puppet of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, a billionaire businessman, was ousted in a 2006 military coup. He is living in self-imposed exile overseas after being convicted of corruption.

Yingluck and her brother have the support of Thailand's rural poor, largely because of Thaksin's policies to bring virtually free health care, cheap loans and other benefits to the long-neglected countryside. However, they are disliked by the urban middle class and more educated elite.

Most of the protests, which at first aimed to occupy government buildings, have been peaceful, with police exercising restraint. However, several people have died in street clashes in the capital.