Thai security forces have begun removing demonstrators from protest sites in Bangkok. Opposition activists have been camped out near Government House in their campaign to force the premier's resignation since November.
Thousands of Thai police were deployed in Thailand's capital city, Bangkok, on Friday with the goal of clearing long-occupied protest sites. National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr said 5,000 police had been assigned to the operation, targeting sites around the government district.
Police retook two intersections leading to Government House, Pattanathabutr said. However, in an effort to avoid clashes they backed off from the Chaengwattana intersection in northern Bangkok near Government Complex. Hundreds of police, armed with shields and batons, had lined up to clear the protesters from the intersection, but they were withdrawn after a two-hour standoff.
Anti-government demonstrators have gathered for nearly three months in the area near the United Nations building and the Government House, the seat of the country's administration under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Critics of Premier Yingluck Shinawatra have accused her of acting as only a puppet to her billionaire brother, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Her government's attempt to pass amnesty legislation that would have paved the way for her brother's return prompted anti-government protests in November. Opponents are calling for her resignation and the formation of an unelected "People's Council" to bring in reforms aimed at tackling corruption.
Yingluck called general elections on February 2 in an attempt to bring public unrest to an end. The results were disputed by opposition parties, who questioned their legitimacy amid closed polling stations and the inability for some voters to participate while demonstators blocked the registration process in about 28 constituencies.
However, the Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that there were insufficient grounds to consider a petition filed against the government elections by opposition Democratic Party lawyer Wiratana Kalayasiri.
Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced new election dates for April to accommodate those blocked from voting on February 2.
kms,dr/crh (Reuters, dpa)