Thai opposition protesters launch Bangkok 'shutdown'
By Apilaporn Vechakij, AFP
January 13, 2014, 2:20 pm TWN
Bangkok - Thai opposition protesters launched their attempted "shutdown" of Bangkok on Monday, occupying key intersections in the capital in an escalation of their campaign to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The demonstrators want the embattled premier to step down to make way for an appointed government that would oversee electoral reforms to curb the political dominance of her billionaire family and tackle a wider culture of money politics.
Thousands of flag-waving protesters, some wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Bangkok Shutdown", massed at strategic points in the city, including outside a major shopping mall that was set on fire during deadly political unrest in 2010.
"We will fight regardless of whether we win or lose. We will not compromise or accept negotiation," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told crowds at a rally late Sunday.
The firebrand opposition politician -- who faces a murder charge in connection with a deadly military crackdown on political protests when he was deputy premier in 2010 -- was set to lead a march through the city centre later on Monday.
But it was still unclear how much support he would enjoy among city residents, some of whom voiced fears that the action would hurt their livelihoods.
"Of course it affects me -- I'm very stressed," said hair salon owner Tong, 69. "No customers are coming now as my regular customers cannot drive here."
Authorities say they are ready to declare a state of emergency if there is fresh unrest, and roughly 20,000 police and soldiers will be deployed for security.
But they have not tried to stop the demonstrators taking over parts of the city in the run-up to the February 2 elections, which they have set out to disrupt.
The protesters have vowed to stop officials going to work and cut off power to key state offices as part of the shutdown efforts, which authorities have warned could lead to further bloodshed.
Several shots were fired at the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party in a drive-by shooting in the early hours Monday but nobody was hurt.
A 30-year-old member of the protesters' own security team was also shot and wounded late Sunday after a quarrel with another unidentified man near a rally site.
Eight other people, including a policeman, have been killed and dozens injured in street violence since the protests began over two months ago.