BANGKOK (AP) — Anti-government protesters in Thailand cut off electricity to the prime minister's office compound on Thursday while their leaders met with businesspeople to explain why they want to oust the caretaker government before upcoming elections.
The government and military both announced they will hold public meetings this weekend in attempts to find an end to the political crisis. But the protesters insisted they would stick with their demand.
The military Supreme Command said it would host a meeting on Saturday at which the protest group would explain its goals and be questioned by invited guests from various walks of life.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban cast the meeting as a talk with top brass from the army, air force, navy and police. However, the official announcement did not make clear if they would attend.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra earlier announced in a televised address that the government would hold its own forum on Sunday with representatives of all sectors of society to try to formulate proposals for reforming Thailand after the Feb. 2 polls are held.
Yingluck made the announcement from an undisclosed location. She was not at her office, where protesters outside the gates cut off water and electricity and demanded that police leave the compound. The protesters have previously occupied and cut off electricity to official buildings to pressure the government.
Thailand has been wracked by sometimes violent political conflict since Yingluck's billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The protesters say Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin's continuing influence, and that he buys his electoral support from the country's urban and rural poor.
They say Yingluck is Thaksin's puppet and want a non-elected government to be appointed to institute reforms and establish a less democratic system that would abolish the concept of one person, one vote. They believe the poor are not educated enough to choose responsible leaders.
Thaksin's supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok's elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class.
Thaksin and his allies have easily won every national election since 2001.
Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament on Monday and called the early polls in an attempt to end the crisis, but the protesters insist that she make way for another prime minister immediately.
In a series of bizarre "orders," protest leader Suthep has called for police not to report to their posts and demanded that Yingluck be prosecuted for insurrection. He already has been charged with the same crime for his movement's occupation of government offices and call for civil servants to join the protesters instead of reporting for their jobs.
Suthep has been seeking credibility through meetings with the country's power brokers. He met with business leaders for an hour Thursday in a forum carried by the group's satellite TV station.
Suthep told the business leaders that political reforms had to be instituted ahead of the election, and asked the protesters to stay the course.
"We will show that we will not give up, we will not go home," he said. "We will fight until we achieve our goal."
Earlier Thursday, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was charged in court with murder in connection with the deaths of two protesters during a 2010 crackdown by his Democrat Party-led government on pro-Thaksin demonstrators. About 90 people died in the violence.
Abhisit denied all the accusations in the brief hearing and was released on bail. His trial was set for March 24.
The opposition Democrat Party, which has allied itself with the protests, has not decided whether it will contest the polls. It has not won a national election since 1992.
Associated Press writers Papitchaya Boonngok, Tim Sullivan and Jinda Wedel contributed to this report.
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