|We will fight, Thais tell Yingluck regime
Thai opposition protesters launched their attempted “shutdown'' of Bangkok, occupying key intersections in the capital in an escalation of their campaign to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The demonstrators want the embattled premier to step down to make way for an appointed government that would oversee electoral reforms to curb the political dominance of her billionaire family and tackle a culture of money politics, AFP reports.
Thousands of flag-waving protesters, some wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan “Bangkok Shutdown,’’ massed at strategic points in the city, including outside a major shopping mall 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.
The firebrand opposition politician faces a murder charge in connection with a deadly military crackdown on political protests when he was deputy premier in 2010.
It was unclear how much support he would enjoy among city residents.
“Of course it affects me – I'm very stressed,'' said hair salon owner Tong, 69. “No customers are coming now as my regular customers cannot drive here.''
Authorities say they are ready to declare a state of emergency if there is fresh unrest, and roughly 20,000 police and soldiers will be deployed.
The protesters have vowed to stop officials 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.
Several shots were fired at the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party in a drive-by shooting in the early hours today but nobody was hurt.
A 30-year-old member of the protesters' own security team was also shot dead late Sunday after a quarrel with another unidentified man near a rally site.
Eight other people, including a policeman, have been killed and dozens injured in street violence since the protests began over two months ago.
The civil strife is the worst since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in street clashes between pro-Thaksin protesters and the military.
“It's going to be very volatile,'' said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former Thai diplomat and associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University.
He said there was a risk of “political violence.’’
“In a way there is no turning back for the protesters, they have come too far,'' he added.
The current political crisis is the latest chapter in a saga of political instability and periodic unrest that has gripped Thailand since Yingluck's older brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by royalist generals seven years ago.
The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, has large electoral support particularly in northern Thailand, where he is adored for a swathe of popular policies.
But he is reviled among the country's elites and by many in the Bangkok middle class and Thai south, who see him as authoritarian and accuse him of buying votes.