Bangkok braces for ‘shutdown’ protests

By Grant Peck and Jinda Wedel ,AP

BANGKOK — Anti-government demonstrators were preparing Sunday to occupy major intersections of Thailand’s congested capital in what they say is an effort to shut down Bangkok, a plan that has raised fears of violence that could trigger a military coup.

The protesters are trying to force caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and have her government replaced by a non-elected interim administration to implement reforms they say are needed to stop corruption and money politics. They want to scuttle an early general election called by Yingluck for Feb. 2.

Since November, the demonstrators have engaged in street battles with police, cut off water and electricity to national police headquarters, and occupied for a time the compounds of other government agencies. At least eight people, including a policeman, have died in violence associated with the political unrest.

The protest leaders said last week that the demonstrators would occupy seven key intersections Monday in Bangkok, a teeming city known for its debilitating traffic jams. Protestors are also threatening to occupy government office compounds.

Groups of demonstrators started arriving late Sunday at some of the venues, where they said they would erect stages.

Earlier on Sunday, some demonstrators blocked a road in Bangkok’s northern outskirts, where many government offices are located, said Deputy Police Spokesman Col. Anucha Romyanan. There were no immediate confrontations with the authorities, who have vowed to show restraint in order to avoid violence.

Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Friday that a combined force of around 12,000 police officers and 8,000 soldiers was being deployed to maintain order in the capital.