Thailand crisis: Polls to proceed despite protests

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban: "The people want to reform the country - there is no need to negotiate"

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Thailand's election is set to go ahead as planned on 2 February, the government says, despite protesters' "shutdown" of the capital, Bangkok.

The news came after a meeting boycotted by the protesters, who have been disrupting the city since Monday,

They want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and an unelected "People's Council" to enact reforms.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has threatened to "capture" Ms Yingluck and others if they refuse to give in.

His supporters are blocking major road junctions in Bangkok and are camped out in some areas.

The country is facing its worst political unrest since 2010, which left 90 people dead.

Analysis

The prospects for a viable election do not look good, but after a meeting with other politicians, the embattled Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appears to have decided that holding it as planned is the least bad option.

The protesters now occupying a number of road junctions in central Bangkok refused to attend. Whatever the timing, they intend to sabotage the poll, claiming that the prime minister will once again buy victory from millions of farmers with a massive programme of pork barrel kickbacks.

But the government's supporters see the protests as nothing more than a tantrum by a middle class elite that cannot accept simple electoral arithmetic and almost every scenario, from forcing the prime minister from office, to her re-election at the polls, raises the possibility of further chaos and violence.

Protesters accuse Ms Yingluck's government of being under the control of her brother, ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The opposition are boycotting the polls called for next month by Ms Yingluck, who leads an elected government that enjoys strong support in rural areas. For its part, the election commission has recommended delaying the elections until May.

'One by one'

Ms Yingluck had offered to discuss a postponement of the polls on Wednesday morning but Mr Suthep rejected any compromise and did not attend the meeting.

In the event, the prime minister met members of her own cabinet, registered candidates and Election Commission Secretary General Puchong Nutrawong for talks at the Royal Thai Air Force Headquarters in Bangkok.

Speaking afterwards to reporters, she said there was no legal way to delay the polls, while her Deputy Prime Minister, Pongthep Thepkanchana, argued that support for Mr Suthep was declining.

"When he is doing something against the law, most people do not support that," the deputy prime minister said.

Asked by BBC News if the protests did not threaten to engulf Thailand in a civil war, Mr Suthep insisted the action was peaceful. "We are not here to fight with anyone," he said. "We are here to chase out a tyrant government."

The protest leader had urged his supporters on Tuesday to shut down all government offices and cut water and electricity to the private residences of Ms Yingluck and her cabinet.

"If they are still being obstinate, then we will capture them one by one because the people are not interested in fighting for years," he said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (centre) at talks at Royal Thai Air Force Headquarters in Bangkok, 15 January Prime Minister Yingluck (centre) went ahead with the talks at Royal Thai Air Force Headquarters
A Thai anti-government protester blows a horn as he takes part in a march through downtown Bangkok on 15 January 2014 Thailand's protesters want the government to step down and be replaced with an unelected council
Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban poses for a picture with a supporter as anti-government protesters march through downtown Bangkok on 15 January 2014 Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (centre) has rejected any compromise with the government
Anti-government protesters duck behind a barricade after shots are heard in the distance near the MBK Centre in Bangkok on 15 January 2014 On Tuesday night shots were fired towards the protesters' main camp, causing two injuries

Large parts of Bangkok have continued to function during the shutdown but the protesters have blocked intersections and surrounded government departments in a bid to disrupt officials' work.

They say they will remain in place until the government resigns.

In an overnight incident, a witness said several shots were fired towards a protest barricade over a two-hour period. Police said that a man was hit in the ankle and a woman in her arm.

The BBC John Sudworth explains that the protests in Bangkok are harming the economy

A small blast - attributed either to a small device or a firework - also occurred overnight at a house belonging to opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The blast at Mr Abhisit's property caused no injuries.

Thailand's troubles

  • Sep 2006: Army ousts Thaksin Shinawatra
  • Dec 2007: Pro-Thaksin party wins election
  • Aug 2008: Thaksin flees Thailand
  • Dec 2008: Huge anti-Thaksin protests; court bans ruling party; Abhisit Vejjajiva comes to power
  • Mar-May 2010: Huge pro-Thaksin protests; dozens killed in army crackdown
  • Jul 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra elected PM
  • Nov 2013: Anti-government protests
  • Dec 2013: Ms Yingluck calls election

Eight people have been killed since the anti-government protests began in November.

The campaign was triggered by the government's attempt to pass an amnesty bill that critics said would have allowed Mr Thaksin to return to Thailand without serving a jail sentence for corruption.

Mr Thaksin, who was ousted by the military in 2006, is a deeply divisive figure - loved in rural areas but hated by many of the urban elite, who are at the heart of the current protest movement.

So far his supporters - the "red-shirts" who shut down parts of Bangkok in 2010 - have mainly stayed out of these protests. Analysts fear a trigger that led to their return to the streets could signal further violence.

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