Thu, Jan 09, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Tens of thousands of police, troops set for Thai ‘shutdown’

AFP, BANGKOK

Office workers yesterday join anti-government protesters in blowing whistles during a rally outside a shopping center in Bangkok, Thailand.

Photo: EPA

Nearly 15,000 police and soldiers will be deployed in the Thai capital next week for the planned “shutdown” of the city by demonstrators trying to overthrow the government, officials said yesterday.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called elections for next month following weeks of opposition street protests, but the demonstrators have vowed to block the vote, which they fear will only prolong the political dominance of her billionaire family.

The protesters say they will occupy the capital from Monday until they win their battle to topple the government.

They plan to set up stages around the city, preventing officials from going to work and cutting off power and water to state buildings.

The government is mobilizing 14,880 police and soldiers for the mass rally, national police spokesman Piya Uthayo said in a televised briefing.

“Our goal is to prevent any violence or clashes,” he said.

Singapore Airlines has already canceled 19 flights to Bangkok between Tuesday next week and Feb. 25.

Bangkok city authorities have instructed 146 schools to close on Monday because of the shutdown.

Officials say the government is ready to declare a state of emergency if needed to deal with any unrest, following several outbreaks of street violence in which eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and hundreds wounded.

Critics say the protesters want to provoke fresh clashes in the hope of triggering a military coup on the pretext of restoring order — an accusation the demonstrators deny.

The demonstrators want an unelected “people’s council” to run the country to oversee vague reforms, such as an end to alleged “vote buying” through populist policies, before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.

Yingluck’s government still enjoys strong support in the north and northeast of the country and is expected to win the Feb. 2 election if it goes ahead.

The recent civil strife is the worst since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in a bloody military crackdown on Red Shirt protests in support of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s older brother, under the previous government.

Former Thai deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban was due in court yesterday to face a murder indictment over those deaths, but he asked for another postponement because he is leading the current protests.

If he fails to appear again prosecutors will seek an warrant for his arrest, the attorney general’s office said, in addition to an existing warrant for insurrection for trying to topple the government.

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