Bangkok (AFP) - Thai anti-government protesters began mobilising in Bangkok Sunday, a day ahead of their planned "shutdown" of the capital as they step up efforts to topple the government and halt upcoming elections.
The politically turbulent country has been shaken by weeks of opposition rallies against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her divisive former premier brother Thaksin, which have caused the government to call snap February 2 polls.
Demonstrators, who have vowed to disrupt the vote, packed equipment up at their main Bangkok rally site and began fanning out to seven locations across the city ahead of Monday's attempt to choke off transport into the capital.
"We hope everything will change in a good way tomorrow. The change we want to see is for this government to stop being corrupt or they should resign," said Komol, a protester at the site who gave only one name.
The protesters want an appointed "people's council" to run the country and oversee vaguely defined electoral reforms before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.
It is the latest chapter in a saga of political instability and occasional unrest that has gripped Thailand since Thaksin was ousted from power by royalist generals seven years ago.
The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, has large electoral support particularly in his northern Thai heartlands where he is adored for a swathe of popular policies implemented by his and subsequent allied governments.
But he is detested among the country's elites and by many in the Bangkok middle class and Thai south, who see him as authoritarian and accuse him of buying votes.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former MP for the opposition Democrat party that is boycotting the elections, has said he expects a large turnout for the latest demonstration.
"There will be huge numbers of people from every province joining the shutdown Bangkok mission on Monday 13," he told a rally late Saturday.
The demonstrators say they will block major intersections, stop officials going to work and cut off power to key state offices.
"Prime Minister Yingluck has ordered all police and military personnel to exercise upmost restraint and not to use all kinds of weapons in handling the protesters," said deputy prime minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, one of several people to hold the position, at a press briefing on Sunday.
He added that security forces would only use "shields and batons" but accused some people associated with the protests of carrying weapons, including guns, improvised explosives, fire crackers and sling shots.
The civil strife is the worst since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in street clashes between pro-Thaksin protesters and the military.
Eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and dozens injured in street violence since the protests began in late October.
Schools will close because of fears for students' safety, while the US embassy has advised stockpiling a two-week supply of food, water and medicine.
The authorities say they are ready to declare a state of emergency if there is fresh unrest, and roughly 20,000 police and soldiers will be deployed for security.
Deputy national police chief Reungsak Jaritkate said there were 12 hospitals, 28 hotels, 24 schools and five fire stations within the areas affected.