Thai Opposition Digs In for a Long Protest

Sporadic violence overnight as Bangkok shutdown enters third day, with some protesters threatening to disrupt flights

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Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban speaks to his supporters during a rally in central Bangkok on Jan. 15, 2014

Trouble flared in the Thai capital overnight as efforts by antigovernment protesters to shut down the city entered their third day. An explosion rocked former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s house — although there were no injuries — while in central Bangkok three were wounded during a shooting near a stage set up by demonstrators and a bus was reportedly torched.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban headed a march down the busy Sukhumvit thoroughfare at 10 a.m. on Wednesday as the opposition stepped up its plan to disrupt government institutions. Protesters offered wads of 1,000-baht ($33) bills to Suthep as he passed by, an indication of the sort of support the former opposition Democrat Party lawmaker has among the royalists and middle classes of Bangkok.

The demonstrators’ goal is to force embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and hand over power to an unelected “people’s council.” According to the Bangkok Post, Yingluck has offered to meet Suthep and postpone elections originally called for Feb. 2 until May 4, if the shutdown is called off. However, Suthep has rejected any compromise and threatened to have Yingluck arrested if she does not quit immediately. He has also told government ministers inconvenienced by opposition attempts to cut off water and power to their homes to “send their children and spouses elsewhere,” the Post reports.

(MORE: Mood Growing Tense as Bangkok Shutdown Enters Second Day)

On Tuesday, Yingluck vowed to stay in office. “I will continue to carry out my duty as Prime Minister,” she told reporters. “It is my duty to protect democracy, and democracy belongs to the people.”

Thousands of tents have meanwhile been erected outside various government ministries, effectively blockading them and forcing civil servants to work from home. Live music from rock bands is being interspersed with vitriolic speeches calling for Yingluck’s ouster. Mobile toilets and shower cubicles have been set up, indicating that protest leaders anticipate a long stay.

Meanwhile, according to media reports a renegade group loosely aligned with the protesters, the Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand, is threatening to storm the national air-traffic-control service, Aerothai. This would cause huge disruption to flights over Thailand — one of the world’s most popular tourists destinations. Suthep has not backed the plan but neither has he called it off.

Yingluck, 46, is accused of being a stooge of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai and faces two years in prison for corruption if he returns. The current tumult started with a now shelved amnesty bill that would have quashed his conviction.

“Yingluck must go, Thaksin steals money from Thailand, and all Thai people hate him,” says one protester dancing by a stage near the Tourism Ministry.

However, many Thais, especially those in the country’s agricultural northeast, continue to revere the billionaire telecom mogul for populist policies that included universal health care, microfinancing and fuel subsidies. Outside Bangkok, tens of thousands of progovernment supporters have been rallying in support of Yingluck.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand on Wednesday announced that it has temporarily moved its investor service center to temporary premises because of security threats. Several other key multinationals have closed their offices.

MORE: How Thailand’s Meddlesome Military Got Tired of Meddling