Drive-By Attack Over "Shirt" Protest

BANGKOK (AP) - The founder of Thailand's "yellow shirt"
protest movement that shut down Bangkok airports last year was shot
and wounded in a drive-by attack Friday, just days after troops
cracked down on rioting protesters from the rival, anti-government
"red shirt" group.

Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon and supporter of the current
government who founded the People's Alliance for Democracy protest
movement to oppose previous governments, was in stable condition
after surgery that removed a bullet from his skull, said Vajira
Hospital director Chaiwan Charoenchoktawee.

The government appeared rattled by the shooting and moved to
tighten security around Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva whose
vehicle was attacked twice by red-shirted protesters in the run-up
to this week's riots.

Sondhi's alliance immediately labeled the attack politically
motivated, a claim that police said was under investigation. The
red-shirt protesters have expressed anger that their leaders were
arrested over the past week, while Sondhi and his allies were never
prosecuted over last year's airport seizures.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that the attack
"may effect" the duration of a state of emergency that was
imposed Sunday in Bangkok to control the rioting.

"The government will also heighten security for the prime
minister when he travels and we may not be able to disclose his
plans and schedule as usual," Panitan said.

Sondhi, who owns the pro-government TV channel ASTV, was being
driven to work before dawn Friday when at least two men in a pickup
truck ambushed his car and opened fire with an M-16 and an AK-47,
first aiming to shoot out the tires and then spraying the vehicle
with bullets, said Bangkok police spokesman Suporn Pansua.

"Considering the nature of the attack and the weapons used, we
believe it was carried out by people with expertise," Suporn said,
adding that 84 bullet shells were found on the road near the attack
in western Bangkok. "We believe the attack was meant to take
lives."

Television footage showed the car's windshield was riddled with
bullets and side windows were shattered. The driver of the car was
seriously wounded and an aide traveling in the car also was
wounded, he said.

Sondhi's People's Alliance for Democracy staged protests most of
last year to demand that allies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra resign from government. His supporters come mainly from
the middle class and educated elite of Thai society, and include
royalists, academics and retired military.

Court rulings later ousted Thaksin-allied governments and
dissolved their parties, paving the way for Abhisit to take control
in Parliament in December.

The latest round of protests in Thailand have involved the
red-shirted supporters of Thaksin, who say Abhisit has no popular
mandate to rule. The red-shirts, who largely come from rural areas,
rioted in Bangkok earlier this week but called off the protests
Tuesday after facing a major military crackdown.

The rioting revealed deep-seated anger among the poor in
Thailand who say they feel discriminated against in Thai society.

They argue that security forces did nothing to crack down on the
yellow-shirted royalist protesters who occupied Government House
for three months last year and then seized Bangkok's two airports
for a week, stranding some 300,000 travelers. They also note that
three of the red-shirted protest leaders faced prompt arrest and
remain detained, while Sondhi and his allies were quickly released
on bail and never prosecuted.

A spokesman for the yellow-shirted alliance, Panthep Poapongpan,
called the attack politically motivated but stopped short of saying
who he believed was behind the attack.

"It is quite clear that it was political," he said, adding
that the attack "did not come as a surprise." Sondhi regularly
travels with bodyguards.

Police said an investigation was under way to determine the
motive and they were looking into Sondhi's political enemies as
well as business associates who could be linked to the attack.

The Thai capital remained under emergency rule on Friday for a
sixth day. A state of emergency was imposed Sunday a day after
red-shirted protesters stormed a summit of Asian leaders outside
Bangkok, prompting its cancellation and the evacuation of leaders
by helicopter.


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