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Bangkok protest will stop if violence escalates, says leader
Publication Date : 13-01-2014
More than 10,000 policemen and 8,000 military officers will be deployed today in Bangkok, caretaker deputy prime minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said, as anti-government protesters began blocking roads and pedestrian walkways yesterday in preparation for their "shutdown" of the capital.
"Red shirt" pro-government supporters rallied to oppose the shutdown, but steered clear of Bangkok to avoid a confrontation.
Groups of concerned citizens lit candles yesterday to call for peace and demand their right to vote during the February 2 general election, which protesters have been trying to derail in a bid to pry the Puea Thai party from power.
Protesters have spent over two months agitating against the administration of caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra - seen as a puppet of her brother Thaksin, who was deposed as prime minister by a military coup in 2006.
The tycoon counts among his foes the conservative elites, urban middle class and power brokers jockeying for position ahead of a looming royal succession. He is living in Dubai to dodge a jail sentence meted out for corruption.
The three-month-long crisis has battered the baht and hurt the outlook for Asean's second-largest economy.
Eight people have already died, and there are fears of civil war, especially if third parties try to provoke violence.
The red shirts, who are planning nationwide rallies today to oppose the shutdown, will avoid Bangkok and the opposition-dominated southern provinces to sidestep confrontation.
In an interview with The Nation newspaper published yesterday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said he would call off his movement if the violence escalated. "If it becomes a civil war, I will give up. Life is precious," he was reported as saying.
The plan for today includes cutting off power and water supply to government buildings and the homes of caretaker ministers.
Yesterday, Surapong said the authorities would let protesters into "some places", depending on the situation. "We don't want to confront them - we will avoid any contact because we don't want any violence to start."
Bangkok's train and boat services are prepared for higher passenger loads as people are expected to turn to public transport to avoid the gridlock on the streets.
Caretaker transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt said yesterday: "We can find a way out of the traffic, but as far as politics are concerned, I don't know the way out of this."
Some 140 schools will close and classes at colleges near protest sites will be suspended, officials said. Protesters aim to set up stages at seven sites, reports said.