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NAKHON SRI THAMMARAT: Political discussions can get a little heated the aworld over, but in Thailand few provinces are more renowned for fiery political debate than Nakhon Sri Thammarat, where formerly close friendships have been known to fall to pieces over political disagreement.

In the latest case, however, the debate turned fatal.

In the early hours of November 8, Wichan Santiwarakul, 31, a member of Bang Nop Tambon Administration Organization (OrBorTor) was shot multiple times at the funeral of Khim Meenuan, 70, in Village 4 Tambon Bang Bon Hua Sai District around 1 am. He died on route to Hua Sai hospital.

The cause of his murder? Having the temerity to suggest to fellow mourners that People Power Party (PPP) leader Samak Sundaravej wouldn’t dare appear in a televised debate alongside Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Witnesses told police that following the funeral rites, guests, including many local politicians, sat down to eat and drink. They also began watching a televised debate among leaders of some of the Kingdom’s prominent political parties. Among those taking part was K. Abhisit. Marked by his absence was, K. Samak, self-confessed nominee of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

After a fair amount of drinking, the guests began to discuss the performance of the various party leaders. Witnesses reported that K. Wichan, a staunch Democrat, began to taunt his friend Thepnimit “Yai Thep” Khongjan, 31. Yai Thep, Chief of Tambon Bang Nop Village 1 and a PPP supporter, was forced to endure K. Wichan’s charges that K. Samak dared not face K. Abhisit in a live TV debate.

Enraged by the slur on the very man charged with keeping the spirit of Thai Rak Thai alive, Yai Thep pulled out his .38 pistol and unleashed a fusillade of fire at K. Wichan, hitting him in the left temple, neck and shoulder.

An eyewitness, who asked not to be named, told reporters, “After the ceremonies were done, the guests, including many village chiefs and OrBorTor members watched the party leaders debate about a number of issues on Modernine TV. As it got late and the guests got drunk, they began to discuss politics. K. Wichan, a big fan of K. Abhisit, mocked K. Samak, saying that he didn’t dare come and share his opinions with the leaders of all the other parties.

“This riled Thepnimit, who had been drinking heavily and was already struggling to control himself. Thepnimit went on the attack, defending K. Samak. He then pulled out a pistol and shot K. Wichan repeatedly until he fell off his chair and collapsed on the floor. Thepnimit then ran to his car and sped away,” the witness said.

Col Athip Nakhomnee, Investigating Officer at Bang Nop Tambon Police Station, said that K. Wichan and Thepnimit were close friends who had gone to school together and lived in nearby villages. Before the incident they had been chatting and drinking happily together. The problem started when they turned to discuss politics, Col Athip added.

Police contacted Thepnimit’s relatives, asking them to persuade the man to give himself up. If Thepnimit does not surrender voluntarily, a manhunt will be launched, police said.