Protesters "will return Bangkok to its owners"
Agencies in Bangkok
Thai opposition protesters seeking to force the prime minister from office said yesterday they would abandon most of their rally sites in the capital, following a sharp drop in attendance.
The demonstrators, who have occupied several key intersections in the heart of the capital for more than a month in a so-called "shutdown" of Bangkok, will consolidate into one base in Lumpini Park, their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, announced.
Suthep described the planned move as a token of appreciation for Bangkok residents putting up with the inconvenience, saying his People's Democratic Reform Committee acted not because the government sought to chase them out "but because we care about Bangkok and would like to return it to its owner".
Actions to shut down government offices and disrupt businesses controlled by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's family would continue, he said.
Meanwhile, a senior Thai minister rejected a proposal for talks from Suthep, who had suggested that he and Yingluck should hold a televised debate.
"Yingluck is the legitimate leader of the country and Suthep is a man with warrants for his arrest who heads an illegal movement. The prime minister should not talk to Suthep," said Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who oversees a state of emergency imposed last month.
"Suthep is only proposing negotiations, even though he dismissed them before, because protest numbers are dwindling."
Thailand's powerful army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, asked yesterday whether the violence would trigger a military coup, remained noncommittal and expressed exasperation at the same question being put to him all the time.
"We must not discuss this every day," he said. "I can't promise whether there will be a coup or not."
On Thursday, Yingluck was served with charges of negligence relating to a government rice subsidy programme that has failed disastrously. She faces removal from office and a five-year ban from politics if found guilty.