Thailand crisis: Polls to proceed despite protests

Media caption,
Suthep Thaugsuban: "The people want to reform the country - there is no need to negotiate"

Thailand's election is set to go ahead as planned on 2 February, the government says, despite protesters' "shutdown" of the capital, Bangkok.

The news came after a meeting boycotted by the protesters, who have been disrupting the city since Monday,

They want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and an unelected "People's Council" to enact reforms.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has threatened to "capture" Ms Yingluck and others if they refuse to give in.

His supporters are blocking major road junctions in Bangkok and are camped out in some areas.

The country is facing its worst political unrest since 2010, which left 90 people dead.

Protesters accuse Ms Yingluck's government of being under the control of her brother, ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The opposition are boycotting the polls called for next month by Ms Yingluck, who leads an elected government that enjoys strong support in rural areas. For its part, the election commission has recommended delaying the elections until May.

'One by one'

Ms Yingluck had offered to discuss a postponement of the polls on Wednesday morning but Mr Suthep rejected any compromise and did not attend the meeting.

In the event, the prime minister met members of her own cabinet, registered candidates and Election Commission Secretary General Puchong Nutrawong for talks at the Royal Thai Air Force Headquarters in Bangkok.

Speaking afterwards to reporters, she said there was no legal way to delay the polls, while her Deputy Prime Minister, Pongthep Thepkanchana, argued that support for Mr Suthep was declining.

"When he is doing something against the law, most people do not support that," the deputy prime minister said.

Asked by BBC News if the protests did not threaten to engulf Thailand in a civil war, Mr Suthep insisted the action was peaceful. "We are not here to fight with anyone," he said. "We are here to chase out a tyrant government."

The protest leader had urged his supporters on Tuesday to shut down all government offices and cut water and electricity to the private residences of Ms Yingluck and her cabinet.

"If they are still being obstinate, then we will capture them one by one because the people are not interested in fighting for years," he said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Prime Minister Yingluck (centre) went ahead with the talks at Royal Thai Air Force Headquarters
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Thailand's protesters want the government to step down and be replaced with an unelected council
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (centre) has rejected any compromise with the government
Image source, AP
Image caption,
On Tuesday night shots were fired towards the protesters' main camp, causing two injuries

Large parts of Bangkok have continued to function during the shutdown but the protesters have blocked intersections and surrounded government departments in a bid to disrupt officials' work.

They say they will remain in place until the government resigns.

In an overnight incident, a witness said several shots were fired towards a protest barricade over a two-hour period. Police said that a man was hit in the ankle and a woman in her arm.

Media caption,
The BBC John Sudworth explains that the protests in Bangkok are harming the economy

A small blast - attributed either to a small device or a firework - also occurred overnight at a house belonging to opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The blast at Mr Abhisit's property caused no injuries.

Eight people have been killed since the anti-government protests began in November.

The campaign was triggered by the government's attempt to pass an amnesty bill that critics said would have allowed Mr Thaksin to return to Thailand without serving a jail sentence for corruption.

Mr Thaksin, who was ousted by the military in 2006, is a deeply divisive figure - loved in rural areas but hated by many of the urban elite, who are at the heart of the current protest movement.

So far his supporters - the "red-shirts" who shut down parts of Bangkok in 2010 - have mainly stayed out of these protests. Analysts fear a trigger that led to their return to the streets could signal further violence.