Protesters trying to halt preparations for elections fought running battles with police in the Thai capital on Thursday, as the country’s festering political crisis again flared into violence. Officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets toward protesters trying to force their way into a sports stadium where candidates were gathering to draw lots for their position on polling papers, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. The demonstrators, some armed with sling shots, threw rocks and attempted to break through police lines. Inside the stadium, candidates for at least 27 parties took part in the lot-drawing process, which apparently went on unaffected despite the turmoil outside the gates. Three officers were injured, said police Col. Anucha Romyanan. He urged the demonstrators to assemble peacefully and said “attempts are being made to escalate the political situation by causing violence.” It was unclear how many protesters were hurt in the clashes, which were contained to the area around the stadium. It was the first violent incident in nearly two weeks of daily protests on the streets of Bangkok.
The protesters have been demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down since mid-October, and street unrest has occasionally broken out. They oppose the polls scheduled for Feb. 2 because Yingluck is seen as sure to win them.
Police have largely shown restraint and have made no move to arrest the ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented.
Thailand has been wracked by political conflict since Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a 2006 military coup. The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields influence in the country.