Thousands of protesters on Monday blocked roads in parts of the Thai capital, Bangkok, in a bid to force out Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and replace her with an unelected “Peoples Council” before elections in February.
The protesters built barricades and occupied key road junctions in a festive mood, waving flags amidst chants and dancing and wearing tee-shirts with the inscription “Shutdown Bangkok”.
Major intersections that normally team with cars and trucks were blockaded, but trains and river ferries were operating, most shops were open and motorbikes plied the roads freely.
“Don’t ask me how long this occupation will last,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech to supporters carried by the movement’s BlueSky television channel. “We will not stop until we win.”
The government has deployed 18,000 security personnel to maintain order, but police and soldiers are maintaining a low profile.
The protests are the latest chapter in years-old political crisis that has gripped Thailand since Yingluck’s older brother, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by royalist generals in 2006.
The recent rallies were triggered by a failed amnesty bill that could have allowed Thaksin to return without going to jail for a past corruption conviction.
The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician has strong electoral support in northern Thailand, but he is reviled by many southerners, Bangkok’s middle class and members of the royalist establishment.