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Thai opposition takes to street in new rally against PM

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central Bangkok on Sunday, paralyzing traffic and clashing with police outside Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's residence in their latest mass rally against Thailand's government.


Yingluck has called a snap poll for Feb. 2 to try to ease tensions and renew her mandate, but demonstrators reject any election until the implementation of vague reforms ostensibly aimed at weakening the influence of the Shinawatra family.

The weeks-long political deadlock became more uncertain on Saturday when the opposition Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest, announced it would boycott the election, saying the democratic system had failed the Thai people.

The boycott adds to concern that powerful forces allied with the opposition would try to scuttle an election that is otherwise likely to return Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party to power, and perpetuate the influence of her self-exiled brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Chanting “Yingluck, get out” and blowing whistles, thousands of protesters gathered at locations around the city and set up stages in at least four places, bringing traffic to a halt at three main intersections and in two commercial districts.

Hundreds surrounded Yingluck’s house, calling for her to step down. Yingluck is not in Bangkok currently, but visiting the northeast, her party’s stronghold.

‘Reform the system or create a new one’

The protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat heavyweight, wants a suspension of democracy and the installation of an appointed “people’s council”.

“I don’t know what Yingluck is thinking. But what I know for sure now is that all civil servants, the army, the police have realised all Thai people are rising up against the government,” Suthep told Blue Sky, an anti-government cable television station.

Suthep has earned a reputation for overstated rhetoric during incendiary nightly speeches, where he has told police and civil servants to report to him, promised to retire to the beach and issued deadlines to army leaders to meet him to discuss ousting Yingluck.

Yingluck and Thaksin remain hugely popular in the north and northeast, but Suthep’s movement is backed by a powerful minority: Bangkok’s middle class, bureaucrats, conservative elites and top military brass.

One of those supporters, 55-year-old Thangwhiwa Pintong, told FRANCE 24 that she was in favour of the protesters’ decision to refuse any election for the moment. “I think it’s good that they’re boycotting, so that we can reform the system or create a new one,” she said.

Meanwhile, Thaksin’s mainly working-class supporters see him as a benevolent billionaire committed to raising their living standards, but his enemies call him a crony capitalist who exploited the poor and abused his power by helping wealthy friends and family.

The protests enjoy big support from Bangkok, and though the size of the crowd often dwindles, Suthep has managed to mobilise more than 100,000 on some marches.

The Election Commission on Friday ruled out postponing the vote, having earlier said it was concerned the polls could be marred by violence.

The politicised military, which has staged 18 coups since 1932 -- some successful, some failed -- insists it is neutral, but many Thais suspect the generals, who removed Thaksin in a 2006 coup, are loyal to the anti-government camp.

The Democrats boycotted an election called during similar protests in 2006, when Thaksin tried to renew his mandate. His party won in a landslide, but the result was annulled on a technicality and he was later overthrown in a coup.

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters and AP)

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