Amid a massive "shutdown" protest, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has offered to meet with the opposition in a bid to ease tensions. Protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating until Yingluck resigns.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters settled in at seven key intersections in the capital, Bangkok, on Monday, setting up rally stages with tents for sleeping as they have vowed to occupy the capital until Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra steps down.
As the “Bangkok shutdown” was underway, Yingluck invited protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and opposition political parties for a meeting on Wednesday to discuss an Election Commision proposal to postpone the vote.
On December 9, in a bid to end the turmoil, Yingluck dissolved parliament and called a snap election for February 2. However, the opposition has rejected the poll and is demanding that an unelected "people's council” be appointed instead.
The opposition claims Yingluck is a puppet for her brother, billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and is currently in self-exile to avoid serving jail time for a corruption conviction.
Government officials accuse Suthep of intending to incite violence and prompt a military coup, which he has denied.
The 'people's coup'
"We are staging our own coup, a people's coup," Suthep, who heads the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), said as he led marchers into the city center.
"We don't need the military, but we are calling on all civil servants, including the military and police, to join us," Suthep added. He has been leading street protests since November in a bid to unseat democratically-elected Yingluck.
Protesters have vowed not to disrupt Bangkok's airports and mass transit systems, but the closing of main intersections will strain public transportation and inconvenience some 4 million car drivers and thousands of taxis.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Kissana Pattanacharoen, said more than 15,000 police and soldiers had been deployed to maintain security. Monday's demonstration was reported to have been relatively peaceful however, at least eight people have died in protest-related violence, since the latest anti-government rallies began.
Thailand's military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years, but this time it has tried to stay neutral with army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha publicly refusing to take sides.
hc/pfd (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)