Anti-government protesters aiming to shut down central Bangkok took over key intersections Monday, halting much of the traffic into the Thai capital's main business district as part of a months-long campaign to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister.
The intensified protests, which could last weeks or more, were peaceful and even festive, as people sporting "Shutdown Bangkok" T-shirts blew whistles, waved Thai flags of various sizes and spread out picnic mats to eat on the pavement.
Still, the protests raise the stakes in a long-running crisis that has killed at least eight people in the last two months and fueled fears of more bloodshed to come and a possible army coup. The army commander has said he doesn't want to be drawn into the conflict, which broadly pits the urban middle and upper class opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra against her supporters in the poorer countryside.
Overnight, an unidentified gunman opened fire on protesters camped near a vast government complex, shooting one man in the neck who was admitted to a nearby hospital, according to the city's emergency medical services. The drive-by was the third of its kind since Jan. 6.
In a separate incident early Monday, a gunman fired about 10 shots at the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party, shattering several windows but causing no casualties, said Police Maj. Nartnarit Rattanaburi.
The protesters are demanding that Yingluck's administration be replaced by a non-elected "people's council" which would implement reforms they say are needed to end corruption and money politics. The main opposition party has boycotted Feb. 2 elections that Yingluck has called in a bid to ease tension — and which she would almost certainly win.
The real target of the protesters' wrath is Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields considerable sway over Thai politics. They accuse Yingluck of being Thaksin's puppet, but the rural poor like him for the populist policies he implemented, including virtually free health care.
"I'm here to get rid of Thaksin and his cronies," said Darunee Suredechakul, a 49-year-old Bangkok native and resort owner who is staying in a hotel so that she and her daughter can join the protests. "The government has to go. Reforms must be carried out. This is mainly because we don't want to see the same old corrupted politicians returning to power over and over again."