Protesters disrupt voting in tense Thai election

BANGKOK - Anti-government protesters blocked voting in dozens of constituencies in tense Thai elections Sunday overshadowed by pre-poll bloodshed, an opposition boycott and fears of protracted political limbo.

Despite weeks of mass street demonstrations aimed at forcing her from office, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was widely expected to extend her billionaire family's decade-long winning streak at the ballot box.

But few expect the controversial polls to end the cycle of political violence that has plagued the kingdom since her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as premier by royalist generals in 2006.

Tensions were running high after a dramatic gun battle between rival protesters on the streets of the capital on the eve of the election left at least seven people wounded.

Officials said voting could not go ahead in 45 out of 375 constituencies nationwide because of the demonstrators, who want Yingluck to step down to make way for an unelected "people's council" to oversee reforms to tackle corruption and alleged voting buying.

In many parts of the south, a stronghold of the anti-government movement, demonstrators stopped post offices from distributing ballot sheets and boxes, said Election Commission secretary general Puchong Nutrawong.

In Bangkok, 437 out of 6,673 polling stations could not open because of a blockade by protesters or a lack of staff, sparking minor scuffles between would-be voters and police in one district.

"I just want to vote," said Praneet Tabtimtong, 57, clutching a large wooden club.

"They closed and did not bring the ballot boxes out," she added.

But in central and northern Thailand, as well as some areas of the capital, voting began without major disruption, in a boost to Yingluck's hopes of re-election.

"I did my duty today as I came to vote -- it's my right," said Pui, 43, who cast his ballot at a polling station in the city's historic district where a handful of police watched over voters.

Yingluck was among the early voters, casting her ballot in front of the media elsewhere in the capital.



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