, BANGKOK, Jan 14 – Thai opposition protesters occupying central Bangkok threatened Tuesday to take the prime minister captive and close down all government offices in an increasingly bold bid to force her from office.
While well known for their blustery rhetoric, the belligerent tone reflects an air of impunity surrounding rally leaders who travel freely around the city despite warrants for their arrest for their role in civil unrest that has left eight dead and hundreds injured.
The protesters, backed by the kingdom’s royalist establishment, want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign to make way for an unelected “people’s council” that would oversee reforms to curb the political dominance of her billionaire family.
Her supporters say the rallies are a threat to the country’s fragile democracy and want the dispute to be settled at the ballot box but the opposition is boycotting a February 2 election.
Demonstrators marched on several key government ministries Tuesday to stop officials from going to work as part of what they are calling a “shutdown” of Bangkok.
Their firebrand leader Suthep Thaugsuban – a former opposition MP – vowed from a rally stage in the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district to “capture” the premier and her cabinet ministers “one by one” if they do not quit within days.
Suthep himself faces an arrest warrant for insurrection for his role in the seizure of government ministries in November, as well as a murder charge in connection with a military crackdown on opposition protesters that left dozens dead when he was deputy premier in 2010.
But there has been no attempt to detain him and police have been largely invisible during the “shutdown” – the latest twist of a political crisis that has gripped Thailand since Yingluck’s brother Thaksin was ousted in a military coup seven years ago.
The rallies were triggered by a failed amnesty bill that could have allowed Thaksin to return without going to jail for a past corruption conviction.