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Thai northeast willing to risk civil war to protect polls

Thais living in northeast Thailand, which is the stronghold of pro-government "Red Shirt" supporters, are adamant elections must go on, even at the risk of starting a civil war.

UDON THANI: For months, Bangkok has been caught up in anti-government protests seeking to obstruct Sunday's general election.

But it is a different story for Thais living in the northeast, which is the stronghold of pro-government "Red Shirt" supporters.

They are adamant elections must go on, even at the risk of starting a civil war.

In the lead-up to the general election on Sunday, pro-government Red Shirts in different parts of Thailand have joined forces to show their support to the Election Commission, the agency that is going to oversee the polling procedures.

In northeastern Thailand’s Udon Thani, the stronghold of the interim government, a large number of Red Shirts have followed their leaders to the provincial office of the Election Commission.

Some said they went to give support to democracy and to participate in a peaceful gathering. But in case the polling in Bangkok is disrupted, they are more than ready to take to the streets and confront the anti-government protesters, even though the action would lead to violence.

"We really don't want any violence. But if we go to Bangkok, the confrontation is unavoidable. We're very worried,” said Paritporn Hongthanithorn, a Red Shirt provincial coordinator.

“So we'll wait and see if the polling goes well. If so, that's great. We really want to see that. But if we have to come out, there will be violence. Their side won't step back and neither will we."

So far, the Red Shirts have been keeping a low profile.

Kwanchai Praipana, a Red Shirt leader who was shot in a recent attack, says they do not want to give caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra another cause for concern.

But they could soon break their silence given that anti-government protesters may be planning to block polling stations.

Mr Kwanchai said: "We, Red Shirts haven't taken to the streets just yet but if the anti-government protesters disrupt the polling on February 2, we'll come out. We'll outnumber the protesters. If they want to see a civil war, so be it."

In Bangkok, there are no signs that street demonstrations are coming to an end.

The demands remain the same. The protesters want the interim government to resign and political reform to take place before a new election is held.

With both sides not giving ground, clashes between rival groups could soon turn into a reality.

"I had a meeting with Red Shirt leaders from the 20 provinces in the northeast. They confirmed they're ready to mobilise the Red Shirts if the election is disrupted," said Mr Kwanchai.

Red Shirts in northeastern Thailand are looking forward to casting their votes for the party they love. But they are also keeping close watch on developments in Bangkok and will not hesitate to take action once the signal is given. 

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