Bangkok braces for protest shutdown

Protesters set to paralyse Thailand's capital for at least 15 days from Monday to pressure PM Shinawtra to step down.

    Thai authorities have decided to deploy more than 14,000 troops and police on Bangkok's streets as anti-government protesters, led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban, plan on shutting down the capital for between 15 and 20 days starting Monday.

    We need to be careful about our comments. What we say can ignite and inspire even create a situation that will force the army to step in.

    Colonel Winthai Suwari,
    Thai army spokesman

    Paralysing Bangkok is the latest bid in a two-month attempt by protesters to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, amid the military's insistence to remain neutral.

    The turmoil is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.

    Protesters, who accuse the Shinawatra family of corruption and nepotism, have asked the army at the early stages of protests to side with them.

    "We need to be careful about our comments," Colonel Winthai Suwari, a Thai army spokesman, told Al Jazeera. "What we say can ignite and inspire, even create, a situation that will force the army to step in."

    Yingluck called a snap election for February 2, but this failed to placate protesters, who want her government to resign to make way for an unelected people's council to oversee political reform.

    Fears of escalation

    Fears of more clashes between rival factions escalated after pro-government "red shirts" announced they would stage their own march on Monday in provinces neighbouring Bangkok.

    Amid fears of escalating trouble, security forces have been deployed across the capital to protect key sites including the prime minister's office, Bangkok's main airport and the city's water and electricity authorities.

    Many Thais believe the military will soon step in to break the political deadlock, especially if the protests turn even more violent, and rumours of an impending coup have intensified.

    "Worries over another coup have fed rumours of secret meetings and high-level plots," Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler reported from Bangkok. "Previous coups have left Thailand in worse shape than before the military stepped in."

    The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years, but it has tried to remain neutral this time.

    The country's top general called for calm ahead of the city-wide protests and ordered troops to stay neutral in the crisis.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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