THAILAND - Thailand's vast urban/rural divide was never more obvious than the contrasting images from the two major events yesterday - Bangkok overrun by a massive anti-government protest and the caretaker prime minister greeting admirers on a tour of the far Northeast.
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters staged another mass rally in Bangkok, including a protest outside caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's residence, to put pressure on the premier to resign while the premier toured her political stronghold. Protest leaders yesterday vowed in their speeches that they would mobilise large-scale month-long rallies to occupy Bangkok if Yingluck remained in power.
The protesters split into more than a dozen groups around the central part of the capital, including some main shopping areas. Several thousand protesters surrounded the PM's home, amid tight security, in Soi Yothin Pattana 3, parallel to Ekamai-Ramintra expressway, despite her being far away.
Yingluck, who dissolved the House on December 9 and scheduled an election for February 2, has been on tour in the North and Northeast since then. Pheu Thai supporters came to see her off and have shouted moral support during her travels.
However, she could not escape the whistle blowing, a symbolic gesture by opponents keen to oust her and her brother, the former PM Thaksin, from politics. She has faced them in almost every province in the current trip, from Surin, Yasothon, Buri Ram, and Nong Khai yesterday.
On the way to lunch in Nong Khai, around seven protesters greeted Yingluck by raising a Thai flag, blowing whistles and shouting "Get out! Get out!"
During her train journey from Udon Thani to Nong Khai, she monitored protesters' moves via iPad, which was linked to signals from a camera circuit at her home via the Internet. She admitted she was worried about the rallies in Bangkok, and passed a message to her staff to tell the protesters that the house's owner was not there.
Most of her activities in the provinces were visiting villagers and paying respect to revered monks and making merit. She appeared happy when surrounded by her supporters. After freeing fish in Nong Bua Lampu yesterday, she told a reporter with a smile "I'm now happier."
She was due to stay in Loei last night. A source from Pheu Thai said she would focus instead on making trips to the provinces, notably the North and Northeast, and may not come back to Bangkok until the New Year.
The PM posted a picture of her hugging her son with the caption: "I'm inspecting the work in many Northeast provinces and I have many missions to do each day. At least I have my son. We give moral support to each other."
Meanwhile, PDRC secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban led tens of thousands of protesters in a vibrant and lively rally through five major sites in Bangkok, blocking traffic and turning parts of city roads into crowded and noisy pedestrian zones a day after the main opposition party declared a boycott of the snap February election.
Suthep kicked off another mega rally by leading protesters on foot from Rajdamnoen Road to Wong Wian Yai and to seek support from Thonburi residents to oust the Yingluck government.
Both sides of roads that the protesters marched along were crowded with supporters waiting to cheer them on as they passed by. Some blew whistles and others waved the national flag, while others gave donations to Suthep, who carried a black bag to collect cash. Some onlookers joined the rally, which stretched longer the further it went.
Suthep greeted protesters and raised a fist as a gesture of a struggle. He led the crowd to join those at the Lumpini rally site by crossing Sathorn Bridge, then took a shortcut to north Sathorn and Silom. He joined four major sites - Asoke, Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan and Victory Monument - before returning to Democracy Monument.
Suthep said the number of protesters was higher than expected. And more would take to the streets to shut down the capital within another seven to 10 days if the government stubbornly clinged to power.
He had earlier changed a plan to take the BTS (Skytrain) and MRT subway and took a motorcycle instead, because the trains were too crowded.
Several protesters who spoke to The Nation said they would definitely join another rally if Suthep called one - even after the New Year. One said "We can't leave the matter half finished. I'll join this until the end."
Ratchaprasong was packed with protesters from morning. Most had arrived at the site by the BTS. Former model Ornapa Krisadee or "Mah" was among the actors and actresses who took to the rally stage.
Democrat chief adviser Chuan Leekpai led colleagues from the party headquarters to Democracy Monument rally site.