Anti-government protesters stage mass rally in Bangkok

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 4:50am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 10:22am

Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators massed peacefully across Bangkok yesterday in their latest bid to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra before a February election the main opposition will boycott.

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

Thailand remains in a familiar deadlock after eight years of on-off conflict broadly between supporters and opponents of Yingluck's self-exiled tycoon brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist political machine has won every election since 2001.

Chanting "Yingluck, get out", whistle-blowing 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. "I hate Yingluck and I want to get rid of her because she does everything for her brother, not for Thai people," said 75-year-old protester Chaloey Thanapaisan.

Among the main protagonists in Thailand's turmoil is a Bangkok establishment with influence among judges and generals and which backs protests against governments controlled by Thaksin, who they see as a tax-dodging crony capitalist who enriches his family and business friends.

Video: Thai opposition protesters gear up for fresh mass rally

Thailand's near-term future became more uncertain on Saturday when the opposition Democrat Party announced it would boycott the election, saying the democratic system had been distorted by Thaksin and was failing Thais.

The boycott adds to concern that forces allied with the Democrats would try to scuttle an election that is otherwise likely to return Yingluck's party to power.

Hundreds surrounded Yingluck's house yesterday and demanded she quit. Yingluck was not in Bangkok and has been visiting the party's stronghold in the northeast of the country.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was feted like a rock star while he gave speeches across the city. He urged supporters to stop candidates from signing up for the election when registration opens today.

"No matter where this takes place, we will go there and block it. We don't want this election," Suthep shouted to roars and applause from tens of thousands of protesters. "We will take our country back from the hands of the Thaksin regime."

Suthep wants democracy to be suspended and for an appointed "people's council" to reform Thailand before any election can happen. His campaign is less about policies and more about weakening the influence of the powerful Shinawatra family.

"Today, we have shut down Bangkok for a half day. If Yingluck remains in office, next time we will shut Bangkok down again for the whole day. We will fight until we win - we will not back down," Suthep told demonstrators.

Yingluck had enjoyed a smooth two years in office but that unravelled last month when her Puea Thai party tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have nullified Thaksin's 2008 graft conviction, allowing him to return home from Dubai.

Questions remain about how the protesters can remove Yingluck when the rallies, which have attracted as many as 160,000 people, have remained largely peaceful and have failed to stop her government from functioning.