Thai protesters march in bid to oust PM, but turnout low

Thai protesters march in bid to oust PM, but turnout low

BANGKOK - Anti-government protesters marched in Bangkok on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office but their numbers appeared far smaller than earlier in the month, when she called a snap election to try to defuse the crisis.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is demanding political and electoral reforms before any vote is held and wants these to be overseen by a "people's council" his movement will help nominate rather than by Yingluck, who is caretaker prime minister until the election, set for Feb. 2.

About 2,500 people marched along one of the city's main roads holding banners that read "We are anti-corruption" and "No elections before reform". Others are expected to join as they move through central business areas.

One sign read: "We will not accept Square Face", a nickname given to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother and the figure at the centre of Thailand's eight-year, on-off political crisis.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, is adored by the rural poor because of cheap healthcare and other policies brought in while he was in power, but he was toppled by the military in 2006 and now lives in self-exile.

Yingluck won a landslide victory in 2011 and her Puea Thai Party is well placed to win the next election because of Thaksin's enduring support in the populous north and northeast.

Ranged against them are a royalist establishment that feels threatened by Thaksin's rise and a middle class that resents what it sees as its taxes being spent on wasteful populist policies that amount to vote-buying.

Thaksin fled in 2008 before being sentenced to jail for abuse of power in a trial he says was politically motivated.

Suthep's movement gained impetus in early November after Yingluck's government tried to push through a political amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home a free man.

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