Carnival atmosphere in downtown Bangkok

BANGKOK - Thailand's government ceded the streets of downtown Bangkok yesterday to protesters clamouring for the resignation of caretaker Premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

Nine bullets lodged in the plate glass window of an empty cafe on the ground floor of the opposition Democrat Party headquarters at 2.30am were no deterrent.

Crowds in the thousands chanted "Yingluck awk pei" (Yingluck get out) and turned Bangkok's upscale downtown retail and business district into a carnival.

Rock music, live graffiti art and sloganeering T-shirts proliferated on Sukhumvit Road.

When a police helicopter hovered briefly overhead - virtually the only sign of a police presence - the crowd jeered and blew the shrill whistles that have become the signature of the movement.

Vendors made a killing on food and merchandise. One peddling "Bangkok Shutdown" T-shirts at 150 baht (S$6) apiece sold 1,000 during the day - and these were still flying off his trestle table at the Ratchaprasong intersection, one of the seven intersections blockaded yesterday.

While hooded graffiti artist Crude spray-painted a massive sign with the words "Shut Up Down", students from Silapakorn University, an art college, used stencils to spray-paint posters and print them on T-shirts.

Vijira Pasomsapya, 17, who cannot vote until she is 18, was there with her family.

They had taken the skytrain from their home in Lad Prao to Ratchaprasong, where they joined the anti-government protesters. They will return to the intersection today.

"We are here to protect Thailand from Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra," said Vijira. "There is so much corruption in this government. We want to reform before we have another election."

The protesters gathered under the banner of the People's Democratic Reform Committee led by veteran Democrat Party politician Suthep Thaugsuban, who calls the movement a "people's revolution" against corruption and electoral fraud.

The reference is to Thaksin, loathed by Bangkok's conservative elites who view him as a corrupt, vote-buying populist who, though he lives in self-imposed exile abroad, is the puppet master of the ruling Puea Thai party.

Across town at another rally site, Mr Manat Thongyort, a 25-year-old student at an Islamic school, said: "Today is the first time I have joined the protest because today is a big day. We want the Prime Minister to leave."

He added: "My mother and father support me being here. Our whole community supports this. Thaksin made problems for the Muslim community in the deep south and the military has done many wrongs there."

As darkness fell and the lights of downtown Bangkok came on, at the Asoke intersection a few kilometres up the road from Ratchaprasong, a rock band took to the makeshift stage belting out Gloria Gaynor's 1978 hit, I Will Survive.