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Gunfire, Explosions Rock Thai Capital Ahead Of Polls

An hour-long gun battle erupted in the Thai capital of Bangkok on Saturday, a day ahead of parliamentary elections opposed by anti-government activists were to take place.

The opposition is seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose Pheu Thai Party won overwhelmingly in 2011 elections. They have boycotted the polls and threatened to disrupted them in a bid to replace Yingluck's government with an unelected council.

Michael Sullivan, reporting for NPR from Bangkok, says at least seven people have been wounded in a confrontation between pro- and anti-government supporters in the city's north ahead of Sunday's polling. An American photojournalists was among those hurt.

"Supporters of beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra marched on the district office in order to confront the protesters and it didn't end well. Rocks and firecrackers gave way to gunfire and grenades and the situation on the scene is still tense," Michael says.

The Associated Press says "people caught up in the mayhem crouched behind cars and ducked on a pedestrian bridge while others fled inside a nearby shopping mall."

It wasn't immediately clear who was shooting or which side suffered casualties. The AP says "an enraged mob of pro-government supporters wielding huge sticks smashed the windshields of a car carrying protesters that sped away."

Anti-government activists have staged mass rallies and blocked access to government offices in their efforts to dislodge the government.

The AP says at least 10 people have been killed and nearly 600 wounded since last year, when political violence erupted.

The latest unrest was sparked when Yingluck, the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted eight years ago in a military coup, pushed an amnesty bill that would have allowed him to return to the country despite his conviction on corruption charges.

Her party later withdrew the bill, but unrest among opponents of her and her brother refused to wane. In December, Yingluck dissolved parliament and scheduled the Feb. 2 poll in an effort to quell unrest, but that too has failed to calm the anger.

The BBC says one election commissioner predicts that 10 percent of the polling stations will be shut down by anti-government activists.

The anti-government protesters have adopted the color yellow, associated in Thailand with royalty, and claim the imprimatur of the ailing monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol, 86, is in poor health and questions over his succession, which cannot be legally discussed by ordinary Thais, is said to have served as a tacit undercurrent to the political crisis.

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