Thai protesters plan to capture Premier

January 15, 2014 - 11:37:07 am

A convoy of Thai military vehicles drives past barricades during anti-government rallies in Bangkok yesterday.

BANGKOK:  Thai opposition protesters occupying central Bangkok threatened yesterday to take the prime minister captive and close down all government offices in an increasingly bold bid to force her from office.

While well known for their blustery rhetoric, the belligerent tone reflects an air of impunity surrounding rally leaders who travel freely around the city despite warrants for their arrest for their role in civil unrest that has left eight dead and hundreds injured.

The protesters, backed by the kingdom’s royalist establishment, 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.

Her supporters say the rallies are a threat to the country’s fragile democracy and want the dispute to be settled at the ballot box but the opposition is boycotting a February 2 election.

Demonstrators marched on several key government ministries yesterday to stop officials from going to work as part of what they are calling a “shutdown” of Bangkok.

Their firebrand leader Suthep Thaugsuban -- a former opposition MP -- vowed from a rally stage in the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district to “capture” the premier and her cabinet ministers “one by one” if they do not quit within days.

Suthep himself faces an arrest warrant for insurrection for his role in the seizure of government ministries in November, as well as a murder charge in connection with a military crackdown on opposition protesters that left dozens dead when he was deputy premier in 2010.

But there has been no attempt to detain him and police have been largely invisible during the “shutdown.” 

Demonstrators also temporarily surrounded the ministries of commerce, labour and information and communications technology.

It is a tactic they have deployed several times during the months-long protests, which have so far failed in their goal of forcing Yingluck from office.

A defiant premier urged the opposition -- whose MPs resigned en masse from parliament last month -- to join talks today about a possible delay to the election as a way out of the deadlock.

“I am not clinging to office or consolidating my political position,” she told reporters. “I am trying to preserve democracy.”

But the number of demonstrators on the streets appeared to have declined as some returned to work.    AFP

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