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Thai PM refuses to step down

Yingluck Shinawatra visibly emotional as she appeals to opposition to stop protests until February polls.

Last updated: 10 Dec 2013 09:16
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Yingluck called on protesters to use the electoral system, not the streets, to choose the next cabinet [Reuters]

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has said she will not resign ahead of national elections set for February 2, despite opposition demands she step down as the caretaker head of government.

Yingluck spoke on Tuesday; one day after she announced elections and the main opposition leader ended a massive protest rally of 150,000 people by insisting his movement had now assumed broad political power.

The streets of Bangkok were quiet on Tuesday, a national holiday, after weeks of sometimes violent political turmoil, as protesters demanded that Yingluck give up power to an unelected "people's council".

The protesters accuse Yingluck of serving as a proxy for her billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields immense influence in the country.

"I must do my duty as caretaker prime minister according to the constitution," Yingluck told reporters. "I would like the protesters to stop and to use the electoral system to choose who will become the next government."

Yingluck seemed to become choked up and emotional as she answered opposition calls for her family to be removed from the country.

"I'm not without emotion. I'm also Thai. Do you want me not to step foot on Thai soil anymore? "I have retreated as far as I can. So I ask to be treated fairly," she said.

Her brother Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, was toppled by a 2006 military coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between Thailand's elite and largely urban middle class on one side, and Thaksin's power base in the countryside on the other.

Violent struggle

That base benefited from his populist policies designed to win over the rural poor. Ever since, the two sides have been duelling for power, sometimes violently.

Since the latest unrest began last month, at least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured.

The latest round of protests started last month when Yingluck's party tried to pass a bill that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others.

The protesters were not quieted by Monday's announcement of new elections, saying they cannot win the polls because of corruption.

The opposition Democrat Party, allied with the protest movement, has been defeated by Thaksin-allied parties in every election since 2001.

A decree from King Bhumibol Adulyadej scheduled the elections on February 2 and named Yingluck as interim prime minister until then.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who faces an arrest warrant on insurrection charges, spoke to more than 150,000 followers on Monday at a stage near Yingluck's offices, challenging authorities to "come get me!"

He claimed that his movement was assuming some functions of government, citing a clause in the constitution stating that "the highest power is the sovereign power of the people".

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