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September 22, 2017

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Tense Thailand polls go ahead despite protests

BANGKOK--Protesters trying to derail Thailand's national elections Sunday forced the closure of hundreds of polling stations in a highly contentious vote that has become the latest flash point in the country's deepening political crisis.

Around the country, the vast majority of voting stations were open and polling proceeded relatively peacefully. Polling stations closed for the day with no reports of violent clashes, easing fears of bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.

The national focus was riveted to the capital where 488 of the capital's 6,600 polling stations were shut and several skirmishes broke out between protesters intent on disrupting the vote and frustrated would-be voters. The Election Commission said the closure of polls affected more than 6 million registered voters.

In some cases, protesters formed blockades to prevent voters from entering polling stations. Elsewhere, protesters blocked the delivery of ballots and other election materials, preventing voting stations from opening. The Election Commission said that hundreds of polling stations in the south, an opposition stronghold, faced similar problems.

Angry voters at one Bangkok district stood outside of closed voting stations waving their identification cards and shouting "Election! Election!"

"We have the right to vote. You don't have the right to take that away from us," said Sasikarn Wannachokechai, a 51-year-old Bangkok resident who said she had never missed a chance to vote.

The outcome of the vote will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters blocked candidate registrations in some districts, parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.

Official results were not expected for weeks, with final counting delayed until all districts have voted. Advance voting that was scheduled for last Sunday but thwarted in many districts has now been rescheduled for late February.

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