Protesters flood Bangkok commercial district

Rally is boldest act yet in bid to oust prime minister

Opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban spoke during Monday’s demonstration in Bangkok.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban spoke during Monday’s demonstration in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters swarmed Bangkok’s commercial district Monday as part of an attempt to paralyze the city, a largely peaceful demonstration that cut most traffic to Thailand’s costliest real estate and most prestigious addresses.

The protest was the boldest move in two months of protests against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Protesters frustrated with what they say is a dysfunctional political system have issued some of the most radical political demands seen in Asia in recent years: the scrapping of elections scheduled for February, a hiatus for democracy, and the formation of an alternative form of government involving an unelected “people’s council” that would replace Parliament.


“We need to shut the capital to tell people that this government has lost its legitimacy,” said Uracha Trairat, a businessman who flew from the southern island of Phuket to join the protests. “The government is now destroying itself.”

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Yingluck has proposed to meet Wednesday with various groups — including her opponents — to discuss a recommendation from the Election Commission to postpone the elections, the Associated Press reported, quoting Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana.

There was no immediate response from demonstrators, but protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said, ‘‘you cannot mediate with this undertaking, you cannot compromise with this undertaking,’’ the AP said.

Monday’s protest had echoes of a protracted demonstration three years ago that closed off some of the same areas of Bangkok and ended with a military crackdown that left dozens of people dead.

There were no reports of violence from the protest areas, and some observers said the demonstration resembled a car-free festival more than a serious threat to the government.


But a radical and aggressive faction of the protesters threatened to take over the country’s stock exchange and air traffic control system if Yingluck’s government did not step down by Wednesday.

In making that threat, one of the leaders of the faction, Nitithorn Lamlua, said protest leaders had already been charged by the government with rebellion, so they “could not lose.”

“We will fight until we win,” he said.

The International Crisis Group, a research organization, said Monday the “scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing” and the campaign to stop elections “raises prospects of widespread political violence” that could provoke a military coup.

During two months of demonstrations on Bangkok’s streets, protesters have raided the Finance Ministry and other key government offices.


They have also temporarily cut power to police headquarters, and blocked the registration of candidates for the election.