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September 23, 2017

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Protesters launch Bangkok 'shutdown'

BANGKOK -- Huge crowds of Thai opposition protesters occupied major streets in central Bangkok on Monday in an attempted "shutdown" of the capital, escalating a campaign to unseat the embattled premier.

The demonstrators want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign to make way for an unelected "people's council" that would oversee reforms to curb the political dominance of her billionaire family and tackle a wider culture of money politics.

Tens or even hundreds of thousands of flag-waving protesters massed at key intersections in the city, setting up rally stages along with tents for sleeping and stalls offering free food.

The well-organized protest movement has vowed to occupy parts of the capital until Yingluck quits, threatening to disrupt a February election which it fears will only return the Shinawatra clan to power.

In the eyes of the protesters, Yingluck is "no longer prime minister," firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters while leading a march through the capital.

A hardcore faction of the movement has threatened to besiege the stock exchange and even air traffic control if Yingluck does not quit within days.

The government said it would invite all sides to a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the election commission's proposal to postpone the Feb. 2 election, although it looks unlikely to agree to the demonstrators' demand for a delay of at least a year.

The International Crisis Group think-tank warned Monday of a "potentially catastrophic" situation if people are denied the chance to vote.

"As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant," it said in a report.

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