BANGKOK: Anti-government protesters seized key intersections across Thailand’s capital on Monday, blockading major roads into the heart of Bangkok’s downtown districts at the start of a renewed push to derail elections next month and overthrow the prime minister.
The protesters vowed to “shut down” the city of 12 million people, but life continued normally in most places, with the majority of businesses and shops open.
The intensified protests were peaceful and even festive, as vast swarms of people blew whistles, waved Thai flags and spread out tents and picnic mats at seven key crossroads where demonstrators wearing bandanas and sunglasses turned cars back.
Still, the protests raise the stakes in a long-running crisis that has killed at least eight people in the last two months and fueled fears of more bloodshed to come and a possible army coup. The army commander has said he doesn’t want to be drawn into the conflict, which broadly pits the urban middle-class and upper-class opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra against her supporters in the poorer northern countryside.
The demonstrators, who accuse the government of corruption, have vowed to stay in the streets for as long as it takes to achieve their goals. They are demanding that Yingluck’s administration be replaced by a non-elected “people’s council” which would implement reforms they say are needed to end corruption and money politics. The main opposition party is boycotting Feb. 2 elections that Yingluck has called in a bid to ease tension — and which she would almost certainly win.
Critics have lashed out at the moves as a power struggle aimed at bringing the Southeast Asian nation’s fragile democracy to a halt. Candlelight vigils have been held to counter the shutdown and urge the election be held.
Yingluck said she has proposed to meet Wednesday with various groups — including her opponents — to discuss a proposal from the Election Commission to postpone the elections, according to Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana.
There was no immediate response from demonstrators, but protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said, “you cannot mediate with this undertaking, you cannot compromise with this undertaking. In this undertaking, there’s only win or lose ... today, we must cleanse Thailand.”
The International Crisis Group think tank said the “scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. is urging all sides to refrain from violence, and applauds the restraint shown so far by government authorities.