"Shut down Bangkok" campaign kicks off

Photo: "Shut down Bangkok" campaign kicks off / Other News

Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Bangkok Sunday to drum up support for a campaign to "shut down" the capital beginning January 13, dpa reported.

Protesters have been staging some of the largest demonstrations ever seen in Thailand since early November against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Under pressure last month, Yingluck dissolved parliament last month and scheduled a snap election for February 2, but those moves have not satisfied the demonstrators.

"Whether the election takes place on February 2 or not doesn't really matter to us," said protest spokesman Ekkanat Promphan.

The opposition seeks to force Yingluck and her caretaker cabinet to resign, and pave the way for an appointed interim government and "people's assembly" to make political reforms before any new elections, he said.

The protesters plan to occupy 20 key intersections in Bangkok beginning January 13 and surround the houses of Yingluck and her cabinet ministers in an effort to force their resignations.

The planned campaign has been criticized for the harm it may do to the economy, especially in the tourism sector.

Singapore Airlines has cancelled 19 flights to Bangkok in the mid-January to February period, in anticipation of a decline in demand, according to The Straits Times newspaper.

But Ekkanat denied that the demonstrations would shut down mass public transportation in the capital.

"We will not be shutting down the airports, we will not be shutting down the skytrain or the subway, and we will leave a special lane open on the roads for taxis, buses and ambulances," he said.

The protests have been relatively peaceful thus far, with eight deaths including one protester and one police officer who were killed in a confrontation on December 26.

The opposition has vowed to rid Thai politics of the influence of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's elder brother.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon turned populist politician, was ousted by a coup in 2006 but has remained the de facto leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party from abroad.

He faces a two-year jail sentence in Thailand on an abuse-of-power conviction in 2008.

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