Bangkok protest ‘shutdown’ ends

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iol pic wld 7_THAILAND-PROTEST-_0217_11 Reuters Anti-government protesters pour cement near a concrete wall set up to block a gate near Government House during a rally in Bangkok. Picture: Athit Perawongmetha

Bangkok - Thai opposition protesters seeking to force the prime minister from office said Friday they would abandon most of their rally sites in the capital, following a sharp drop in attendance.

The demonstrators, who have occupied several key intersections in the heart of the capital for more than a month in a so-called “shutdown” of Bangkok, will consolidate into one base in Lumpini Park, their leader Suthep Thaugsuban announced on stage.

“We will reopen every junction from Monday and have only one stage at Lumpini,” Suthep said.

He said the move aimed to ease traffic congestion caused by the rallies.

“I feel for the Bangkok residents who joined hands to fight” alongside the protesters, Suthep said.

But he said the struggle to topple the government and end the political domination of Yingluck's billionaire family would go on.

“I will speed up to reach the end game as soon as possible ... within March,” Suthep said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been under intense pressure to resign following four months of protests.

A series of gunfights and small explosions, often targeting protesters, has left 23 people dead and hundreds wounded in recent weeks.

Attendance at the demonstrations has fallen sharply in recent weeks, with most sites nearly deserted for much of the day and a few thousand people joining the rallies in the evenings.

The backdrop is a longstanding struggle between a royalist establishment - backed by the judiciary and the military - and Yingluck's billionaire family which has strong support in the northern half of Thailand.

Yingluck also faces negligence charges that could lead to her ousting, linked to a flagship rice farm subsidy scheme that her critics say is riddled with corruption.

Suthep said on Thursday he was ready to meet Yingluck for on-to-one talks but only if the discussions are broadcast live on national television.

Yingluck indicated she would be ready to talk if protesters agree to end their rallies.

The premier's opponents accuse the Shinawatra family of plundering the public coffers to win the votes of rural voters through populist policies such as the rice scheme.

The anti-government protesters want Yingluck to step aside in favour of an unelected “people's council” to tackle what they see as a culture of money-driven politics.

They accuse Yingluck's elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra - a billionaire tycoon-turned-premier who was ousted from office by royalist generals in 2006 - of running the government from overseas, where he lives to avoid a jail term for corruption.

Sapa-AFP



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