Thai protesters block roads in Bangkok

2014-01-14 07:19
Anti-government protestors rest outside the MBK Centre shopping mall in Pathumwan district in Bangkok. (John Minchillo, AP)

Anti-government protestors rest outside the MBK Centre shopping mall in Pathumwan district in Bangkok. (John Minchillo, AP)

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Bangkok - Anti-government protesters who blocked off intersections across Thailand's capital began marching toward several government ministries on Tuesday on the second day of a renewed push to derail elections next month and unseat the prime minister.

The protesters had planned to "shut down" the city of 12 million people, but life continued normally in most places, with school classes restarting, commuters heading to work and most businesses remaining open.

Thousands of people - many of them southerners from out of town - slept in the streets. Protests leaders pledged the demonstrators will stay camped out in the streets until an unelected "people's council" replaces Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration, which they accuse of corruption and misrule.

"Our goal is to get rid of this government," said Preecha Chamdee, a 46-year-old rubber tapper from eastern Rayong province.

‘Elections not the answer’

Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament last month and called elections for 2 February in a bid to ease tensions. But "an election is not an answer because they will win again", Preecha said. "We need reforms."

The intensified protests raise the stakes in a long-running crisis that has killed at least eight people in the last two months and fuelled fears of more bloodshed to come and a possible army coup.

The real target of the protesters' wrath is Yingluck's brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the army in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction.

They accuse Yingluck of being Thaksin's puppet, but the rural poor like him for the populist policies he implemented, including virtually free health care.

‘Scope for peaceful resolution narrowing’

Yingluck proposed to meet on Wednesday with various groups - including her opponents - to discuss a proposal from the Election Commission to postpone the elections. But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban ruled out negotiations on Monday.

The International Crisis Group think tank said the "scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing".

"If the sides can agree on the need to avoid violence and for a national dialogue built on a shared agenda, a solution might just possibly be found," the group said.

The United States said Monday its ambassador and officials are engaged with "the full range of interested parties to encourage dialogue and a peaceful, democratic, political resolution".

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