By Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - The founder of Thailand's "yellow shirt" protest movement, which was behind the week-long occupation of Bangkok's main airports late last year, was shot and wounded early on Friday, a spokesman for his movement said.
A doctor at Vajiraj Hospital in Bangkok told reporters that doctors were operating on Sondhi Limthongkul, who had a bullet in his head.
Thailand's capital is still under emergency rule and the cabinet was due to hold a special meeting on Friday to discuss the past week's political violence, as well as the budget and stimulus package for a country heading into recession.
Sondhi's car was attacked at a petrol station near the central bank at around 5 a.m. (6:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday), a spokesman for his People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) told Reuters.
The PAD was not part of the latest political violence in Thailand, which involved the red-shirted supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-imposed exile.
The PAD is an extra-parliamentary group of royalists, academics, former military people and Bangkok's middle classes united in their loathing of Thaksin, a former telecoms billionaire who draws his support from the rural poor.
Sondhi founded the PAD in 2005 after falling out with Thaksin, who used to be a business associate.
PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said a driver and bodyguard were also in Sondhi's car. They were also wounded, the driver seriously.
He said the attack was carried out by two gunmen in a vehicle who shot out the tires of Sondhi's car and then riddled it with bullets.
A state of emergency is in effect in Bangkok after violent anti-government protests this week in which two people were killed.
The protests ended on Tuesday when the "red shirts" who had been occupying the grounds of Government House since March 26 surrendered to hundreds of troops surrounding the building, the main office of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said on Thursday the turmoil would mean bigger tax shortfalls than anticipated as private businesses delayed investment and the tourist sector faced even more losses.
"It's undeniable that the country has suffered in every dimension from what has happened," Korn said. "Some people now say the contraction this year may be as much as 5 percent compared with earlier expectations of 2.5-3.0 percent."
After a 6.1 percent contraction in the economy in the final quarter of 2008, Thailand is almost certainly experiencing its first recession since the Asian economic crisis 11 years ago.
Abhisit extended the three-day Thai new year holiday until the end of the week to help the authorities restore law and order and repair infrastructure damaged in the protests, especially at key road junctions.
However, financial markets reopened on Thursday and both the stock exchange and baht ended little changed from before the holiday.
Faced with overwhelming government force on Tuesday, the red-shirted protesters left Government House, but the underlying divide between a royalist elite and middle class elements of Thai society who oppose Thaksin and his rural backers remains.
"I would humbly urge his majesty (to) come and help heal this rift," Thaksin told Reuters in Dubai, one of several foreign cities he has been staying in since leaving Thailand last year. He has been found guilty on conflict of interest charges and faces jail if he returns.
Last Saturday, Thaksin's "red shirts" invaded the venue of an Asian summit in the Thai resort town of Pattaya, forcing the meeting to be canceled. It had already been postponed once last year, and Abhisit had trumpeted the event as proof Thailand was returning to normal.
(Reporting by Vithoon Amorn, Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and John Chalmers)"