Thousands protest in Thailand in move to shut down Bangkok

The planned action comes after the main protest leader said he would not compromise with the government

Thai opposition protesters have stepped up their rallies, with thousands gathering in seven major intersections in the capital in an attempt to shut down Bangkok to ultimately unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thousands of flag-waving protesters, some wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Bangkok Shutdown" massed at strategic points in the city Monday, including outside a major shopping mall that was set on fire during deadly political unrest in 2010.

"We will fight regardless of whether we win or lose. We will not compromise or accept negotiation," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told crowds at a rally late Sunday. 

Thaugsuban also said Sunday that he would call off his protest if civil war threatened to break out.

"If it becomes a civil war, I will give up. People's life is precious for me," he said in an interview published in the English-language Sunday Nation newspaper. "If someone instigates a civil war, I will tell the people to go home."

Protesters led by former opposition politician Thaugsuban subsequently started blocking major intersections early in the day Monday local time, aiming to create traffic chaos in a city of an estimated 12 million people where roads are clogged at the best of times.

The Bangkok Post newspaper said the protesters had blocked a road in front of a government administrative complex in the north of the city that they occupied for a time late last year, and some had set up camp at Lat Phrao, one of the city's busiest intersections.

The protesters have vowed to stop officials from going to work and cut off power to key state offices as part of the shutdown efforts, which authorities have warned could lead to further bloodshed.

"My generation is fed up with corruption in the country," Marisa Buerkle, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera. "We don't care who will lead it in the future. Just as long as they are not corrupt."

The protesters accuse Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, of corruption and nepotism. Yingluck has called elections for Feb. 2, but protesters want her caretaker government to step down immediately.

The eight-year conflict pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party seems likely to win any new elections, which the government says must be held on Feb. 2 now that parliament has been dissolved, and the king has endorsed that date. The opposition has vowed to boycott the elections.

However, a member of the Election Commission said Saturday the vote could be held on May 4, arguing that was permissible under the constitution because candidates had been prevented from registering in some districts, meaning there would be no quorum to open parliament after a February poll. 

Eight people, including two police officers, have been killed and scores injured in violence between protesters, police and government supporters in recent weeks.

Police said seven people were wounded early Saturday when gunmen fired at anti-government protesters in central Bangkok near Khao San Road, a popular tourist area.

Fears of clashes between rival factions escalated after pro-government demonstrators, commonly known as Red Shirts, said they would begin their own rallies Sunday in provinces neighboring Bangkok and in a northeastern stronghold, Udon Thani, where leaders said they expected 10,000 people by Monday.

'No plans to use force'

Government ministers announced on Sunday that 12,000 police would be deployed to maintain law and order in Bangkok, along with 8,000 soldiers at government offices.

"We don't want confrontation with the protesters ... In some places we will let them into government buildings," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

Many believe the army could step in to break the political deadlock, especially if the protests turn more violent. The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-and-off democracy but has tried to remain neutral this time. Authorities said they are ready to declare a state of emergency if there is fresh unrest.

"(A coup) is not a topic that we should be talking about every day," army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Saturday, adding that the media should stop speculating.

Prayuth said he was confident the people would find a peaceful solution to the political crisis. "I don't know what that solution is, but we soldiers will do our best to ensure safety for the people," he said

The unrest since November has hurt tourism and further delayed huge infrastructure projects that had been expected to support the economy at a time when exports remain weak. Consumer confidence is at a two-year low.

"The government will let Suthep play the hero tomorrow ... It will be his show," said Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung. "There won't be a repeat of 2010 because the government will not use that strategy.

"There are no plans to use force," he said, referring to an army crackdown on Thaksin supporters that year, when more than 90 died, including police and soldiers.

Al Jazeera and Reuters 

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