Thailand crisis: protesters shut down areas of Bangkok
Anti-government protesters barricade roads in a bid to prevent elections scheduled next month
PROTESTERS in Bangkok have barricaded roads and occupied key road junctions in a bid to oust the government before elections on 2 February. Around 18,000 security personnel have been deployed to maintain order, as protesters call for an unelected "people's council" to replace the government.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the snap elections amid ongoing protests, but the move has failed to calm unrest. The current protests are the latest stage in a 12-year power struggle between supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's billionaire brother and fugitive former prime minister.
Who are the protesters?
Many of the protesters come from the middle classes, backed by the country's royalist and bureaucratic elite, says the Wall Street Journal. They are opposed to Yingluck, who they believe is serving as a proxy for her brother Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He now lives in self-imposed exile overseas, but remains popular with many rural voters. The demonstrations are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Thai deputy prime minister who resigned from the opposition Democrat Party to lead the rallies.
What do they want?
The protesters want to overthrow Yingluck's democratically-elected government and replace it with an unelected "people's council". Suthep claims Shinawatra's Pheu Thai party "bought votes" in the last election through irresponsible spending pledges and wants the Shinawatra family to be purged from politics. The main opposition party is now boycotting the 2 February polls and protesters have called for a two-year period without elections in which an appointed committee would reform Thailand's political system. Yingluck has offered to meet protest leaders to discuss potentially delaying the polls but has said she will not accept a "people's council" that was unconstitutional.
How did the protests begin?
They kicked off in November after the country's lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill, which critics said could allow former leader Thaksin to return to Thailand without serving time in jail for corruption. The amnesty bill, proposed by Yingluck's party, was eventually rejected by the Senate. However, anti-government protests have continued, with up to 100,000 taking to the streets to rally last year. At least eight people have been killed since the protests began.
What happened over the weekend?
On Saturday, unknown gunmen opened fire on demonstrators at the main rally site in Bangkok, injuring at least seven people, and on Sunday night an unidentified gunman attacked demonstrators at another protest site, shooting at least one man. Thousands of people are reported to have turned out for today's demonstrations. Protesters say they want to achieve a "shutdown" of the capital. Seven major intersections have been blocked. Protesters also plan to surround key ministries and cut off their power supply in a bid to prevent them from functioning, says the BBC, with around 150 schools told to close.
It remains uncertain whether or not the 2 February elections will go ahead. Yesterday the Election Commission, an independent body that organises the polls, recommended that the government postpone them. Meanwhile, Bangkok has swirled with speculation that today’s mass rallies could trigger violent confrontation, forcing the army to intervene, says the Wall Street Journal. ·