Thai protesters say no plan to shut airports

Agence France-Presse

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Operation Occupy Bangkok will not target the kingdom's airports or public transportation during a planned "shutdown" of Bangkok starting January 13

MORE PROTESTS IN BANGKOK. Thai anti-government protesters march on a main street during a rally at Silom road, a major financial and business district in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 December 2013. EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s anti-government protest movement reassured tourists Friday, January 3, that it would not target the kingdom’s airports or public transportation during a planned “shutdown” of Bangkok later this month.

The demonstrators, who are seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curb her billionaire family’s political dominance, say they will occupy Bangkok from January 13.

“Operation Occupy Bangkok does not involve airport closures or the disruption of any mass transport services. Public buses, trains, BTS sky-trains, MRT underground trains, and public boats will operate normally,” the protest movement said on its English-language Facebook page.

The demonstrators have vowed to set up protest stages around the capital, prevent government officials from going to work and to cut off power and water to government offices as well as to the residences of the prime minister and her cabinet.

The protesters also plan several marches in Bangkok starting from Sunday to build momentum ahead of the occupation attempt.

Thai stocks and the baht currency have fallen sharply on concerns that the deepening crisis will scare off foreign tourists and international investment.

In 2008, opposition protesters paralysed Bangkok’s main airports, stranding thousands of tourists.

A number of foreign governments have advised their nationals to avoid the current protest sites. But the protest movement insisted tourists had nothing to fear.

“Shops and hotels near the protest sites are full. I ask tourists to feel relieved – they can join the protesters,” said spokesman Akanat Promphan.

“I understand about some entrepreneurs’ concerns. But if the prime minister resigns, everything will be solved,” he added.

Yingluck has called February elections but the protesters have vowed to block the vote, which they fear will only return the Shinawatra clan to power.

The country’s Election Commission, whose call to postpone the polls was last week rejected by the government, said Friday the election was expected to go ahead.

The protesters have prevented candidates registering for the polls in several opposition-dominated southern provinces, potentially setting the stage for a situation in which there are not enough elected members of parliament after the polls to select a prime minister.

“We have reached the stage of impending civil war – in slow motion,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

He voiced fears of clashes between the opposition protesters and government supporters.

Eight people have already been killed and about 400 wounded in several outbreaks of street violence in recent weeks.

Thailand has been periodically convulsed by political bloodshed since Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup in 2006.

The protesters, who largely comprise southerners, royalists, middle class Thais and urban elite, accuse the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician of corruption and say he controls his sister’s government from his self-exile in Dubai.

They want an unelected “people’s council” to run the country to oversee loosely-defined reforms – such as an end to alleged “vote buying” – before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.

Yingluck’s government still enjoys strong support in the northern half of the country and is expected to win the election if it goes ahead.

Her Puea Thai party is due to kick off its re-election campaign on Saturday with rallies at several locations including on the outskirts of Bangkok and in several cities in the north and northeast.

Thaksin’s “Red Shirt” supporters also plan to hold their own rallies on January 13, mainly in their northern strongholds, to show their opposition to the Bangkok protests. –

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