BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai anti-government protesters on Friday set a new deadline for bringing down the government, vowing that December 9 was an auspicious time for all of their supporters to join a final push for victory.
Leaders of the opposition movement met at a sprawling government administrative centre that they occupy to debate how to breathe fresh life into their movement, showing no signs of giving up even through protest numbers have dwindled.
The demonstrations are the latest eruption of a conflict pitting the Bangkok-based royalist establishment against mostly poorer Thais loyal to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in a government led by the pro-establishment Democrat Party, told a rally the people had to take back power from what he called the illegitimate “Thaksin regime”.
The protesters have missed successive deadlines for forcing Yingluck out but Suthep issued a new one, calling on people to come out for a final push on Monday.
“Victory is measured by the number of people who are willing to fight together which is why we have to set a deadline. On Monday, December 9 this business has to stop,” Suthep said.
People who wanted to protect the core institutions of the monarchy and religion should join the protest at the auspicious time of 9:39 a.m. on Monday, Suthep said. He urged people to come to Bangkok from the provinces to help.
Yingluck swept Thailand’s last election in 2011 with the support of Thaksin’s loyal followers, in particular the poor in the north and northeast of the country.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, built up a solid electoral base with pro-poor policies and he won elections in 2001 and 2005.
But the establishment of generals, bureaucrats, royalists and many members of the urban middle class saw him as a corrupt, crony capitalist who manipulated the masses with populist handouts and posed a threat to the monarchy, which he denies. They say election wins by Thaksin or the parties he backs had no legitimacy because he buys votes.
Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid a graft conviction but remained closely involved with his sister’s government. The protests were sparked by a government bid to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction.
“NOT UP TO MILITARY”
There seems little doubt Yingluck would win an election if she were to call one so Suthep has been urging the setting up of a “people’s council” of appointed “good people” to replace the government.
The army, which ousted Thaksin in a 2006 coup, has said it does not want to get involved though it has been trying to mediate. Suthep told the crowd they could not rely on the military pushing Yingluck’s government out.
“We must do it ourselves,” he said.
This week, the protesters launched waves of attacks on the prime minister’s offices and other state buildings. Police managed to hold them off with volleys of teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
The two sides agreed a truce as a show of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday on Thursday.
Five people have been killed since last weekend, all apparently in clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters. Scores have been wounded, most through inhaling teargas.
Police said three people were injured early on Friday, one by a gunshot and the others, in a separate incident, by a small bomb near a site the protesters have been occupying.
With the crisis not over, Yingluck has cancelled trips to Russia, Myanmar and Japan scheduled for this month.
The Thai baht remained weak on Friday at 32.34 per dollar, around a three-month low, and the stock market lost 1 percent.
Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel