A leading pro-government activist was shot and wounded on Wednesday in Thailand's northeast, a stronghold of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as a state of emergency began in the capital where protesters are trying to force her from power.
The morning after the government issued the 60-day emergency decree, an unidentified gunman opened fire with an AK47 assault rifle on Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of Thailand's pro-government "red shirt" movement and a popular radio DJ, as he sat outside his home reading a newspaper.
The attack in Udon Thani, about 450 km (280 miles) northeast of Bangkok, is the most significant violence outside the Thai capital in nearly three months of anti-government protests and illustrates the risk that the turbulence plaguing Bangkok could spread to other areas of Thailand.
Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid protest areas in Bangkok, among the world's most visited cities. China called on Thailand to "restore stability and order as soon as possible" through talks.
Police said they believed the shooting in Udon Thani was politically motivated.
Kwanchai leads thousands of red-shirted supporters in Udon Thani, a province of about 1.6 million people in the heart of the country's mostly poor "Isaan" region, a rugged northeastern plateau that is home to a third of the country's population and has staunchly backed Yingluck.
Just days earlier, he had warned of a nationwide "fight" if the military launched a coup.
"From the way the assailants fired, they obviously didn't want him to live," his wife, Arporn Sarakham, told Reuters. Police said they had found 39 bullet cases at the house. The gunman and a driver fled in a pickup truck.
On Tuesday, he told Reuters that if the military attempted a coup: "I can assure you, on behalf of the 20 provinces in the northeast, that we will fight. The country will be set alight if the soldiers come out."
FEARS OF ELECTION DAY VIOLENCE
So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray. The police are charged with imposing the state of emergency, under orders from Yingluck to treat protesters against her government with patience.
Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, said the emergency decree was designed largely to give Yingluck legal protection if there is violence and the police step in.
It gives security agencies powers to detain suspects, impose