Protests threaten to disrupt Thai polls

Protests threaten to disrupt Thai polls
Anti-government protesters gather at Ratchaprasong Junction during a mass rally at a major business district in Bangkok December 22, 2013

BANGKOK - Political parties begin registering today for Thailand's Feb 2 elections amid fears of confrontations, after massive protests in Bangkok shut down key intersections on Sunday in a bid to oust the caretaker government.

Protest leaders instructed supporters to surround the candidate registration centre last night, threatening to disrupt the snap polls and deepen the country's political crisis.

The self-titled People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest movement is seeking to delay elections, pushing for political reforms first under a "people's council" that would rid the country of the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, the brother of caretaker Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted in a 2006 coup and currently lives abroad to evade a jail sentence for corruption.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters sporting whistles and ribbons with colours of the Thai flag descended on central Bangkok, occupying the capital's major intersections like Asok and Ratchaprasong, as well as the Victory Monument roundabout.

While the PDRC said 3.5 million turned up, the National Security Council put the figure at around 100,000 in the late afternoon.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was mobbed by supporters who passed him wads of baht for his campaign, in response to an order by the authorities to freeze the bank accounts of protest leaders last week.

A separate group of protesters converged around the house of Ms Yingluck, who was away in the north-east, a key stronghold of erstwhile ruling Puea Thai party.

She has dismissed demands for her to step down.

Her Puea Thai party, which won a landslide victory in the 2011 general election and is widely expected to win again on Feb 2, said yesterday it was prepared to submit its list of candidates today.

Suthep warned the election commission against organising the polls.

"Today, we shut Bangkok down for half a day," he said.

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