Anti-government protesters in Thailand on Saturday refused to end their rallies and vowed to fight “to the end”, even as embattled premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s government planned to step up its operation to clear demonstration sites.
The police on Friday launched “Operation Valentine” to clear public areas, marking a shift from earlier government policy as so far Yingluck had not taken any action, allowing protesters to take over state buildings, major intersections and set up tents on the road.
There were no violent clashes even after more than 1,500 police officers, donning helmets and carrying protective shields, dismantled a sprawling protest camp near the Government House on Friday.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said he will not negotiate with Yingluck’s government and declared the ongoing protests will end when she quits and a People’s Council is set up.
Suthep said there have been several proposals from parties to mediate talks to solve the stalemate.
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“I would like to make it clear, there is nothing to negotiate. Our stance is clear. We will fight to the end, just win or lose,” he said.
His remarks came in the wake of operations by the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) to reclaim areas occupied by anti-government protesters.
“I have noting to negotiate. It’s easy to end our protests, Yingluck (Shinawatra), the prime minister, just quits and the people’s government and people’s legislative council are established to push for the country’s reform,” he said.
There was high drama on Friday as thousands of police personnel with riot shields fanned out to reclaim areas.
Almost a 1,000 policemen had to retreat from a rally site in the capital after a stand-off with demonstrators as protest leader Luang Pu Buddha Issara, a monk, refused to move from the area and vowed to get more supporters.
Meanwhile, Caretaker Labour Minister and chief of CMPO Chalerm Yoobamrung vowed to step up the operation to evict anti-government protesters.
Anti-government demonstrators have occupied major intersections in Bangkok and blocked several government ministries to pressure Yingluck to make way for an unelected “People’s Council” to carry out reforms aimed at curbing the dominance of the Shinawatra clan.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of acting as a puppet for her brother Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in 2006. He lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to escape a jail term for graft.
Chalerm said yesterday’s “Operation Valentine” to “reclaim” the areas occupied by protesters had shown that the police were well prepared to raid protest sites at any time.
“After this, we will do it non-stop until everything is finished. We will reclaim the areas outside Government House. Whether it’s three days or seven days, we will have to enter the compound,” he was quoted by the Nation as saying.
However, Chalerm said protesters would not be dispersed, although the police would be ready to arrest the main protest leader Suthep if they had a chance to do so.
It was the authorities’ first attempt to reclaim the protest sites since demonstrators began their “Bangkok shutdown” rally on January 13.
Thailand’s Election Commission has said it will talk with caretaker premier Yingluck’s party to try to resolve voting issues and find a solution to the current political impasse.
“We will resort to political science and legal principles to try to find a practical way out of this deadlock. If we fail to reach a conclusion, it will be impossible for us to complete the election process,” Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said.
He said the Election Commission was yet to announce election results for constituencies that had not had any issues because advance voting had not been completed and it feared a “rival” political camp might take the agency to court to contest the results.
Somchai said the poll panel would take the results of the meeting on Monday into consideration before deciding whether to propose that the government to issue a royal decree to schedule a new election date for 28 constituencies that have no candidates for the House of Representatives.