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Thai army to deploy more troops in capital ahead of vote

Source: Reuters - Thu, 30 Jan 2014 05:01 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Riot police officers stand guard behind barricades as anti-government protesters rally outside the Thai Royal Police Club in Bangkok, Thailand, January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Thailand's army will increase the number of troops in the capital ahead of Sunday's election, which anti-government protesters say they will disrupt as part of their campaign to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The government's decision to press ahead with the February 2 elections has inflamed tensions in the capital, Bangkok, where the protesters have blockaded main intersections and forced many ministries to close their doors this month.

"In addition to the 5,000 soldiers we have already deployed in and around Bangkok to help monitor security, we will be increasing troops around protest sites as there are people trying to instigate violence," army spokesman Winthai Suvaree told Reuters.

Around 10,000 police would be responsible for security in Bangkok on polling day and the soldiers would be on standby, he added.

Demonstrators took to the streets in November in the latest chapter of an eight-year political conflict that pits Bangkok's middle class and southern Thais against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the army in 2006.

The government imposed a state of emergency in the capital from Jan. 22 to help maintain order. A protest leader sought a court ruling on the legality of the emergency and a civil court agreed on Thursday to hear the case.

Ten people have died and at least 577 have been injured in politically related violence since Nov. 30 according to the Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals.

A protest leader was killed and around a dozen people were injured in a clash near a polling station during advance voting on Sunday in Bangkok. The protesters prevented early voting in many parts of Bangkok and the south.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban led a march in the capital on Thursday, the start of a three-day push to demonstrate opposition to the vote and rustle up support for its cause.

He wants political reforms before an election is held, with the aim of eradicating the influence of Thaksin and his family. They have not said how they would do this.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is expected to win the election comfortably. The main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the vote.

However, not enough candidates have been able to register to provide a quorum for parliament to elect a new government after the election. By-elections will have to be held to fill the vacant seats, which could leave the country without a properly functioning government for months.

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