Thai protesters block roads in bid to shut capital

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At one crossroads in the heart of the capital’s financial district, huge Thai flags hung from an overhead walkway, and protesters wearing bandanas and sunglasses forced drivers to turn their cars around. Police, keen to avert violence, made no effort to stop them.

Enterprising residents set up makeshift booths to sell drinks, skewers of chicken and bowls of noodles, while others hawked whistles, caps and T-shirts.

But van operator Wanida Jantawong complained that she was getting only a fourth of her normal business due to the shutdown.

“There’s one lane that remained open for our vans to run, but there are no customers,” she said.

Protest leaders have said they will maintain the shutdown for weeks, or until they obtain their goal. It remains to be seen what kind of impact that would have on the city’s economy, tourism and foreign investment.

Since Yingluck assumed the premiership after 2011 elections, she has walked a careful tightrope with the army and her opponents that succeeded in maintaining political calm. The trigger for the latest protests was an ill-advised move late last year by ruling party lawmakers to push through a bill under the guise of a reconciliation measure offering a legal amnesty for political offenders. The last-minute inclusion of Thaksin led to public outrage and the bill was voted down.

Since then, demonstrators have steadily escalated pressure on Yingluck, attacking her office at government house and the city’s police headquarters for several days in December with slingshots and homemade rocket launchers.

There are fears the protesters are trying to incite violence to prompt the military to intervene, and Yingluck has dealt softly with demonstrators in a bid to keep the situation calm.

The powerful army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has repeatedly said he wants to stay out of the conflict; but in a sign of apparent impatience late last month, he refused to rule out the possibility of a military takeover.

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Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Jinda Wedel contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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