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Bangkok shutdown ends but not protests

Publication Date : 01-03-2014

 

Anti-government protesters to unblock Bangkok and return traffic space to Bangkokians Monday

 

At least four major intersections in downtown Bangkok will be returned to the public as Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of Thailand’s anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), declared late last night that all his rally sites would be consolidated into just one site centred at Lumpini Park.

This means four major PDRC rally sites at Pathumwan, Ratchaprasong, Asoke and Silom will be closed down and the usually busy intersections will be returned to normal traffic.

This will be a reprieve to the city, roiled by the protests since January 13, the start of a much-touted but only partially successful “Bangkok Shutdown” campaign launched by the PDRC.

The PDRC leader announced this as the end of the “Bangkok Shutdown” but it does not mean the end of the protest aimed at forcing the Yingluck Shinawatra government out of office.

Observers said it is a tactical move in the face of dwindling numbers at protest sites across the city. Police have estimated that less than 5,000 have occupied the sites in recent days.

While the numbers are irrelevant given the depth of the PDRC’s support, mostly from among Bangkok’s middle class and supporters in Bangkok and southern provinces, for the opposition Democrat Party, it makes tactical sense for the PDRC to consolidate.

Rally sites have come under gunfire and grenade attacks in recent days, with several protesters killed - raising fears of spiralling violence.

Thailand’s army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha today repeated a message he has stated previously - that the army does not want to intervene in the political crisis but cannot say for certain that it would or would not launch a coup d’etat if the circumstances warrant it.

Suthep had earlier suggested that he and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should hold a televised debate but a senior government minister dismissed this yesterday.

“Yingluck is the legitimate leader of the country and Suthep is a man with warrants for his arrest who heads an illegal movement,” said Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who oversees a state of emergency imposed last month. “Suthep is only proposing negotiations, even though he dismissed them before, because protest numbers are dwindling.”

The protesters have for the past few months been trying to push out Yingluck and eradicate the political influence of her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, seen as the real power in Thailand.

Violence is on the increase, with almost-daily gun and grenade attacks around protest sites by unidentified people, with 23 people having been killed since November.

 

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