Thai protesters stage new mass rally in Bangkok

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

BANGKOK -- Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Thailand's capital on Sunday, paralyzing traffic and facing off with police outside the prime minister's residence in their latest bid to force her from office.

The rally came a day after Thailand's main opposition Democrat Party announced that it would boycott early elections called for February 2, a move that appeared to have emboldened the protest movement.

The protesters split into more than a dozen groups scattered around central Bangkok, including in some of the capital's main shopping areas. One of the groups gathered outside Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's home, but she was not inside at the time. Hundreds of riot police blocked the flag-waving crowd from moving past the home's outside gate.

The protesters are demanding that Yingluck step down ahead of the elections, which she called in an effort to defuse the country's deepening political crisis.

The demonstrators want an appointed interim government to institute reforms before any new polls are held. They called for the big rally Sunday on the heels of similar protests that have drawn crowds as large as 150,000-200,000 people since Oct. 31.

Yingluck has insisted that the elections will go forward, but the Democrats' boycott casts new doubt on whether they will be viewed as legitimate or will even take place.

Sunday's rally also came a day before the Election Commission opens party registration for the elections. The registration is scheduled to take place at a Bangkok stadium, but there are concerns that protesters will block candidates from entering.

The Democrats, who are closely allied with the protest movement, also led an election boycott in 2006 that helped destabilize the government and paved the way for a military coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother.

The protest movement, led by a former senior member of the Democrat Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, demands that the elections not be held if Yingluck stays on as caretaker prime minister. The protesters say Yingluck is a proxy for Thaksin and that Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin's continuing influence. (AP)

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