Thai protesters cause gridlock with mass picnic
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s anti-government protesters returned to Bangkok streets Thursday, turning one of the capital’s major intersections into a lunchtime picnic spot in their bid to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office.
A few thousand people marched peacefully through central Bangkok, a smaller turnout than earlier in the month but enough to cause major gridlock. Protest leaders brought lunch boxes filled with sticky rice and barbecued pork for the mass picnic at Asok intersection, one of the city’s busiest.
Protest leaders called it a warm-up exercise for a mass rally Sunday.
Yingluck dissolved Parliament last week and called for a snap election Feb. 2 to defuse a political standoff that started several weeks ago.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is demanding that Yingluck, who remains a caretaker prime minister, step down before any polls take place. He has called for the creation of a non-elected “people’s council” to oversee political and economic reforms before the vote is held.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for her billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields immense influence in the country.
Thailand has been wracked by sometimes violent political conflict since Thaksin was toppled by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The protesters say that Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin’s continuing influence, and that he buys his electoral support from the country’s urban and rural poor.
The protests, which started Oct. 31, have drawn crowds as large as 150,000-200,000 people. Demonstrators have forced their way into government compounds, temporarily occupying several of them. Although there have been several pitched street battles, the government has been relatively restrained in its response and even surrendered some premises to avoid serious clashes.
Thaksin-allied parties have won every election since 2001. His supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok’s elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class.