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Call for election fails to quell Thai protests

Demonstrators demand ouster of prime minister

An antigovernment protester peered inside Government House, where Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra offices are located, in Bangkok on Monday.

Manish Swarup/Associated Press

An antigovernment protester peered inside Government House, where Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra offices are located, in Bangkok on Monday.

BANGKOK — A call for new elections by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand on Monday failed to quell antigovernment demonstrations, as tens of thousands of protesters massed outside her office and vowed to expel her powerful family from the country.

Yingluck’s announcement that she would “let the people decide the direction of the country” set in motion the dissolution of Parliament and the official endorsement of elections by the king. She rejected calls for her resignation before the vote.

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A royal decree set the election for Feb. 2, more than two years before the government was expected to finish its term.

Yet leaders of antigovernment demonstrations, which have left five people dead and several hundred injured over the past two weeks, vowed to press on with their quixotic campaign to rid the country of the influence of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin, the billionaire tycoon and former prime minister whose policies have cemented the loyalty of voters in the most populous regions of the country.

A prominent Thai historian warned that continuing the protests despite the announcement of new elections could create “indefinite” conflict. The police said that more than 100,000 protesters filled the streets Monday.

In a rambling speech to supporters, the main leader of the protest, Suthep Thaugsuban, declared a “people’s revolution” and a chance for the country to “start over.” The police, notorious for their corruption, would be replaced with “security volunteers,” he said. A new constitution would be written that would ban populist policies of the type that Thaksin has employed. And a “people’s council” would replace Parliament.

While many areas of this metropolis remained peaceful and unaffected by the protests, Bangkok’s historic district, where demonstrators have gathered, witnessed budding scenes of anarchy.

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Fearing confrontation with protesters, police forces withdrew from the area, leaving demonstrators to direct tangled traffic at intersections. Trash built up on sidewalks, cars triple-parked with impunity, and protesters erected barriers to roads they wanted closed off.

Amid this barely controlled chaos, the way forward for Thailand remained unclear. Officials in Yingluck’s party said she would run for Parliament and remain the party’s candidate for prime minister.

The leaders of the opposition Democrat Party, who resigned from Parliament on Sunday in a show of protest, did not indicate whether they would participate in the elections — or boycott them as they did in 2006, a move that heightened the country’s polarization and was followed by a military coup.

Because of the deep affection that the governing party has in the north and northeast of the country, scholars say, it would be very difficult for the Democrat Party to reverse its two-decade losing streak in national elections.

In the last elections, held in July 2011, the governing party received 15.7 million votes, compared with 11.4 million for the Democrats.

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