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Two weeks after Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra reiterated her determination to hold elections in a bid to end political protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators brought the capital Bangkok to a halt as they pressed on with their demands for her to step down.
Vowing to shut down Bangkok and the country until the Shinawatra ruling legacy came to an end, the protesters – from villages and cities around the country – were joined by local business owners who said they would sacrifice their income if it meant concrete political change could be achieved.
Under the watchful eye of the military which was patrolling the streets without any reported incidents, the protesters appeared to be in a festive mood although they did worry about the likelihood of violence.
There have been reports of sporadic shootings over the weekend; the protesters’ greatest fear is that Yingluck’s supporters – known as the Red Shirts – are still to make an appearance after vowing to keep her in office
Just before the New Year, a protest rally in Bangkok turned deadly when an unidentified man opened fire on demonstrators, killing one and wounding four others.
The protesters have been rallying since November against a bid by the government to officially pardon former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.
Thaksin, a former business magnate currently in exile in Dubai, had been charged with corruption and is meant to serve a jail sentence.
The protesters have also demanded Yingluck postpone or cancel general elections scheduled for February 2. They have vowed to disrupt voter and candidate registration ahead of the polls, and said reforms must be implemented before voters choose a new prime minister.
Meanwhile, Yingluck has rejected a plea from Thailand’s Electoral Commission to postpone the elections.
Last week, the Commission cited the lack of stability and the growing violence between protesters and the police as reasons to delay the polls.
Yingluck says she would like to see the establishment of an independent reform body that would investigate corruption and propose changes. She insists the body would function in tandem with the February 2 elections.