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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Opposition rally vows to continue fighting for ‘shutdown’

BANGKOK: Thai opposition protesters refused to end their rallies in Bangkok despite a vow by police to clear more demonstration sites, following an operation to reclaim the besieged government headquarters.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government is attempting to seize back key state buildings after more than three months of mass protests seeking to curb the political domination of her billionaire family.

On Friday, police with shields and riot helmets, some carrying rifles, met little resistance as they cleared areas around Government House, which Yingluck had been unable to use for about two months.

But there were no arrests or serious clashes, and demonstrators were later seen rebuilding their makeshift barricades.

The security operation is focused on government offices rather than major intersections in the commercial centre that have become the main focus of the rallies in recent weeks as part of what protesters have described as the “Bangkok shutdown”.

So far the authorities have not announced any plan to clear those intersections, where several thousand protesters gather each evening to hear free concerts and speeches.

“We will continue fighting. We will not be shaken by the police operation,” a spokesman for the anti-government movement, Akanat Promphan, said yesterday.

“No matter whether police succeed in reclaiming the rally sites or not, we will keep on protesting,” he added.

Yesterday, about 1,200 police were mobilised to try to reclaim a government complex in Chaeng Wattana in the north of the capital on Saturday, National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut said.

But they later appeared to have retreated, after the two sides agreed to hold talks about re-opening the complex, which has been occupied by demonstrators led by a saffron-robed monk who has emerged as a key figure in the anti-government movement.

An aide to the monk-turned-protest leader Luang Pu Buddha Issara – who faces an arrest warrant for his role in the rallies – said the protesters “will not give up“, but later confirmed that negotiations would take place today.

The government has so far appeared reluctant to use force against the protesters, despite declaring a state of emergency last month that gives authorities the power to ban public gatherings of more than five people. — AFP

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