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FOR more than three months Bangkok has been the scene of confrontation, as huge protests have shut down the government district and other parts of the capital. A snap general election is due on February 2nd, but the opposition (which would lose) refuses to contest it. The protests’ tub-thumping leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, calls for a temporary suspension of constitutional government so that an unelected “people’s council” can “save” democracy. Protesters have blocked Thais from taking part in early voting at polling stations. Several people, from both sides, have been killed, and the risk of grave violence is rising. The capital and surrounding districts are under a state of emergency.
For almost a decade, Thailand has been trapped in a bloody conflict between supporters and opponents of the tycoon-turned-politician, Thaksin Shinawatra. During his time as prime minister, Thaksin improved life for the poor and the working class, while his autocratic tendencies and crony capitalism led his opponents, mainly made up of royalists and the middle class, to rise up. Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 for alleged abuse of power and corruption. Since then Thaksin's opponents — widely known as the Yellow Shirts — and his avid supporters, the Red Shirts, have taken turns instigating mass protests to topple their opponents. While attempting to clear her brother's name of corruption charges in November 2013, Thaksin's sister and Thailand's current PM Yingluck Shinawatra triggered a new Yellow Shirt uprising that has so far killed a reported 23 people and injured hundreds. Yingluck Shinawatra tried to diffuse the protests by dissolving Thailand's parliament and