A Thai protest leader has been shot dead as anti-government protesters blocked several polling stations to prevent voters casting advance ballots. The violence casts a further shadow over upcoming elections.
Thai police say the man was killed and several injured on Sunday as protesters in Bangkok tried to block early voting for an election next week.
A spokesman for the national police, Piya Utayo, identified the man as Suthin Taratin, who police say was one of the leaders of anti-government protests in Thailand.
News agency AFP said he was shot while giving a speech from the back of a pick-up truck in the Bangkok suburb of Bang Na.
The death comes as election officials said more than half of the 50 polling districts in the capital, Bangkok, had canceled advance voting because staff and voters could not enter the polling stations there.
"At least 34 poll stations are reported closed out of 50 in Bangkok," Election Commission secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong told the AFP news agency.
He added that sites in several southern provinces, where opposition to the government is strong, had reported similar problems.
Protesters surrounded dozens of the stations and chained at least two of them shut.
The protest movement, know as the People's Democratic Reform Committee, has claimed that it was not aiming to obstruct the poll.
Late on Saturday, its leader, former lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, said that "supporters are simply protesting the advance polls held today by surrounding/standing in front of election units."
Fears of election violence
Advance voting is for those who are unable to vote in the February 2 elections. It is being seen as a litmus test as to whether next week's vote is possible without violence.
So far, at least 11 people have been killed and hundreds injured in nearly three months of protest against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of carrying on the practices of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they allege used the family fortune and state funds to influence voters and subvert democracy.
They have rejected the February elections, and want Yingluck's government to be replaced by a non-elected "people's council" that would implement anti-corruption reforms before a new vote can take place.
Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006.
Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is expected to win the snap elections, as it enjoys great popularity in northern and northeastern provinces and the main opposition Democrat Party has refused to participate.
However, this will not necessarily stop Thailand's current crisis, as, with electoral boycotts in many southern districts, as well as Bangkok, parliament is unlikely to achieve the quorum it needs to form a legal government.
tj/jr (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)