People hold candles as they take part in an anti-violence campaign in central Bangkok yesterday.
BANGKOK: The leader of a movement trying to topple Thailand’s government said he would call off his protest if civil war threatened to break out but rejected any compromise with the government ahead of a planned “shutdown” of the capital.
Supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra were rallying in her defence yesterday but steered clear of Bangkok.
Life in the capital was much as normal most of the day but witnesses said protesters were assembling in areas they intend to blockade from today, such as by the MBK shopping complex in the commercial heart of Bangkok.
Local media said they had blocked a road in front of a huge government administrative complex in the north of the city that they occupied for a time late last year and some had set up camp at Lat Phrao, one of the city’s busiest intersections.
The anti-government protesters accuse Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, of corruption and nepotism. She has called an election for February 2 but protesters want her caretaker government to step down immediately.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban ruled out talks with the government in an interview published yesterday but said he would stand down his movement if, as some fear, violence escalates and civil war looms.
“If it becomes a civil war, I will give up. People’s life is precious for me,” he was reported as saying by the English-language Sunday Nation. “If someone instigates a civil war, I will tell the people to go home.”
The eight-year conflict pits Bangkok’s middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006. Their Puea Thai Party seems likely to win any new election, which the government says must be held on February 2 now parliament has been dissolved and the date endorsed by the king.
However, a member of the Election Commission said on Saturday that the vote could be held on May 4, arguing that was permissible under the constitution because candidates had been prevented from registering in some districts, meaning there would be no quorum to open parliament after a February poll.
Eight people, including two police officers, have been killed and scores injured in violence between protesters, police and government supporters in recent weeks. Police said seven people were wounded on Saturday when gunmen fired at anti-government protesters in central Bangkok near Khao San Road, a popular tourist area.
Fears of clashes between rival factions escalated after pro-government “red shirts” said they would begin their own rallies from Sunday in provinces neighbouring Bangkok and in a northeastern stronghold, Udon Thani, where leaders said they expected 10,000 people by today.