Thai opposition protesters rally to heap pressure on PM

Thai opposition protesters rally to heap pressure on PM

BANGKOK - Tens of thousands of Thai protesters rallied Sunday in their latest attempt to oust the prime minister, paralysing central Bangkok and vowing to block parties from registering for hotly disputed polls.

The protest followed a declaration by the main opposition Democrat Party that it would boycott a snap election called by embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for February 2.

At least 150,000 people had gathered at several sites across Bangkok by Sunday evening, National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut told AFP. Protest leaders say the number is several times higher.

Thailand has lurched deeper and deeper into crisis despite Yingluck's attempt to dissipate the unrest by calling an election.

Demonstrators want to rid Thailand of Yingluck and the influence of her Dubai-based brother Thaksin - an ousted billionaire ex-premier who is despised by a coalition of the southern Thai poor, the Bangkok middle classes and the elite.

They say he still controls the government from exile.

Firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who has vowed to destroy the "Thaksin regime", dismisses Yingluck's call for an election, saying it will install another Thaksin-allied government.

Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands at the city's Democracy Monument, Suthep urged protesters to blockade the site where the Election Commission is due to hold party registrations from Monday.

"Whoever wants to go inside to register will have to pass through us," he said.

"If we do not hold the country by February 2, we will shut the country down. No one will go to vote," he added.

The self-proclaimed People's Democratic Reform Committee is calling for an unelected "people's council" to be installed to oversee sweeping but loosely-defined reforms before new elections in around a year to 18 months.

Earlier several thousand people - mainly women - gathered outside Yingluck's suburban house amid tight security, although the premier was travelling outside the capital.

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