Some hardline protesters have threatened to blockade the stock
exchange and an air traffic control facility if Prime Minister
Yingluck Shinawatra does not step down by a deadline media said had
been set for 8 p.m. (1300 GMT).
The unrest, which flared in early November and escalated this week
when demonstrators occupied main intersections of the capital, is
the latest chapter in an eight-year conflict.
The country's political fault line pits the Bangkok-based middle
class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural
supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former
premier ousted by the military in 2006 who is seen as the power
behind her government.
Yingluck invited protest leaders and political parties to discuss a
proposal to delay the general election, which she has called for
February 2, but her opponents snubbed her invitation.
After the meeting, the government said the poll would go ahead as
scheduled, and it derided the leader of the protest movement, Suthep
"We believe the election will bring the situation back to normal,"
Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana told reporters. "We can
see that the support of Mr. Suthep is declining. When he is doing
something against the law, most people do not support that."
Speakers at protest sites across central Bangkok have given the
impression Yingluck is worn out and eager to quit. But she seemed
relaxed and cheerful at the meeting, which was held inside an air
force base near Don Muang International Airport.
Her senior officials stressed the caretaker government had no legal
powers to postpone or cancel the election and stressed that even an
imperfect poll was better than none.
"The ballot box doesn't solve everything, and she knows that. But at
least that's the right step," Suranand Vejjajiva, secretary-general
to the prime minister, told Reuters.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL ASSURED
The protesters say they will occupy the city's main arteries until
an unelected "people's council" replaces Yingluck's administration.
Thaksin's rural and working-class support has ensured he or his
allies have won every election since 2001 and Yingluck's Puea Thai
Party seems certain to win any vote held under present arrangements.
The protesters want to suspend what they say is a democracy
commandeered by the self-exiled billionaire Thaksin, whom they
accuse of nepotism and corruption, and eradicate the political
influence of his family by altering electoral arrangements.
There was no sign of trouble at the two targets named by hardliners
in the protest movement, the stock exchange and the central Bangkok
offices of AeroThai, which is in charge of air traffic control
communication for planes using Thai air space.
AeroThai said it had back-up operations to ensure no disruption to
air travel if its control centre was shut down.
Suthep's supporters have blockaded at least seven big Bangkok
intersections and are also trying to stop ministries from
functioning, forcing many to remain closed, with civil servants
working from back-up facilities or from home.
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Yingluck herself has been unable to work from her offices in
Government House since late November.
Demonstrators marched to the home of Energy Minister Pongsak
Raktapongpaisal carrying a coffin with his name on it, ASTV news
reported. They handed one of his aides a note demanding that he cut
LPG prices and resign, it said.
According to the official Twitter account of National Police
spokesman Piya Utayo, an off-duty policeman dressed in civilian
clothes was attacked and had his gun taken off him by about 10
protesters at a rally near the Energy Ministry.
"RED SHIRTS" TO STAY OUT OF BANGKOK
The latest protests have been less violent than a spasm of unrest in
2010, when troops were sent in to end a two-month protest in central
Bangkok by "red shirt" Thaksin supporters. More than 90 people died
during those protests.
Thaksin, who turned to politics after making a fortune in
telecommunications, redrew Thailand's political map by courting
rural voters. He lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence handed down
in 2008 for abuse of power.
There have been relatively few factional clashes in this upsurge of
unrest with the government keen to avoid confrontation. Government
supporters said they held protests on Monday and Tuesday in
provinces neighboring Bangkok but had no plans to demonstrate in the
"All we ask is that Prime Minister Yingluck does not resign," said
Worawut Wichaidit, spokesman for the pro-government United Front for
Democracy Against Dictatorship.
"If (Suthep) and his group achieve their goal ... the outcome would
be similar to a coup, and we all saw what happened the last time
there was a coup," Worawut said, referring to instability and
factional strife in the years that followed the last army takeover
It is widely thought that, if the agitation grinds on, the judiciary
or military may step in. The military has staged or attempted 18
coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, although it has tried to stay
neutral this time and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has publicly
refused to take sides.
(Writing by John Chalmers; editing by Alan Raybould and Robert
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