Thai protesters march through capitalReuters . Bangkok
Thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the Thai capital on Sunday, a prelude to a broader action next week when they say they will shut down Bangkok in their bid to scuttle a February election and topple the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
The protesters, who accuse Yingluck of being the puppet of her self-exiled brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, want an appointed ‘people’s council’ to oversee a vague reform platform, which includes electoral reform, decentralising power, and a volunteer police force, over a 12-month period before any future election.
The crisis, an outbreak of turmoil stretching back eight years, began in November and has become a drag on the Thai economy. The baht slid on Friday to its lowest against the dollar since February 2010 and the benchmark .SETI stock index has lost 15 per cent since early November.
Yingluck, her brother and their support base among the rural poor in the populous north and northeast are pitted against protesters who draw support from Bangkok’s conservative, royalist elite and middle classes and the south.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a fiery former deputy premier from the main opposition Democrat Party, said marches would be held on Tuesday and Thursday, leading up the January 13 ‘shutdown’.
That event is shaping up as the biggest confrontation since the latest round of largely peaceful demonstrations began. The protests at times have brought as many as 200,000 people on to the streets, but have also sparked sporadic clashes with police in which three people were killed and scores wounded.
‘We will keep walking, we won’t stop,’ Suthep said on the march. ‘We will walk until we win and we won’t give up.’
Sunday’s march began at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, where some supporters had gathered overnight. Suthep said the protesters would set up stages at five rallying points through the city leading up to January 13.
Suthep was feted by whistle-blowing supporters, many of whom handed him cash as he shook hands and walked through the crowd.
The protesters plan to shut down government offices in an attempt to force Yingluck’s administration to a standstill but, mindful of bloody crackdowns on similar protests, they have also said they will minimise the impact on ordinary Thais and will not target airports.
The protests since November have been the biggest in Thailand since 2010, when mostly ‘red shirt’ supporters of Thaksin tried to bring down a Democrat-led government.
Those protests led to a military crackdown in which 91 people were killed.
Yingluck has steadfastly refused to bow to the protesters’ demands and is determined that the election, which her Puea Thai Party is almost certain to win, will go ahead.
‘I admit that the election may not be a panacea to solve the problems immediately,’ Yingluck said in a post on her Facebook page on Sunday. ‘But the election is the best medicine to help solve conflict under the democratic system.
‘I don’t want to see violence as it happened in 2010, or an economic crisis. We should not leave our children to inherit this conflict,’ she said.
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