Amid shutdown, Yingluck offers an olive branch

Amid shutdown, Yingluck offers an olive branch
Mr Suthep, addressing supporters yesterday in Bangkok. The protest has raised the stakes in a long-running crisis and fuelled fears of more bloodshed to come. PHOTO: AP
Embattled Thai PM hopes to discuss proposal to delay elections with leaders of anti-government protesters in Bangkok
Published: 4:02 AM, January 14, 2014
Updated: 4:00 AM, January 15, 2014
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BANGKOK — As thousands of protesters seized key intersections across the Thai capital, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday invited leaders of anti-government protesters and political parties to discuss a proposal by the Election Commission (EC) to push back the date of the snap election originally called for Feb 2.

Ministers had until now said a delay would be impossible under the Constitution, but the EC has said it could be postponed. One member has suggested May 4 as a possible date.

“The Prime Minister thinks that there are still some unclear points in the EC’s proposal. The best way is to meet and discuss it,” said Mr Suranand Vejjajiva, Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, adding that Ms Yingluck hoped the meeting could be held tomorrow.

There was no immediate response from demonstrators, but protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said: “You cannot mediate with this undertaking ... In this undertaking, there’s only win or lose ... today, we must cleanse Thailand.”

Earlier yesterday, tens of thousands of protesters began their drive to shut down Bangkok, a city of 12 million people, at the start of a renewed push to derail next month’s election and overthrow Ms Yingluck. However, life continued in most places, with a majority of businesses and shops open.

The intensified protests were peaceful and even festive, as swarms of people blew whistles, waved Thai flags and spread out tents and picnic mats at seven key crossroads, where demonstrators wearing bandanas and sunglasses turned cars back.

Still, the protests raise the stakes in a long-running crisis that has killed at least eight people in the last two months and fuelled fears of more bloodshed and an army coup.

“Don’t ask me how long this occupation will last,” Mr Suthep said in a speech to supporters. “We will not stop until we win.”

The turmoil is the latest chapter in an eight-year conflict pitting Bangkok’s middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Ms Yingluck and her self-exiled brother, billionaire and former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was ousted by the army in 2006 and sentenced to jail in absentia for abuse of power in 2008, but the former telecoms tycoon looms large over Thai politics and is the dominant force behind his sister’s administration from his home in Dubai.

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