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Thai Prime Minister Dissolves Parliament, Calls New Elections

Anti-government protesters carry a Thai national flag as they march Monday in Bangkok.
Anti-government protesters carry a Thai national flag as they march Monday in Bangkok.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the country's Parliament on Monday and called early elections in the face of anti-government protests that began last month. But protest leaders said their goal was to rid Thai politics of her family's influence, and to that end, they want to replace Yingluck's elected government with an unelected "people's council."

A government spokesman said a new vote would be held Feb. 2, but the date must be approved by Thailand's Election Commission. Yingluck says she'll remain as caretaker leader until a new prime minister is named.

Yingluck won the 2011 election in a landslide, and is expected to win in any new vote.

Protest leaders were unimpressed by her declaration. Suthep Thaugsuban, who has led the demonstrators since the protests began Nov. 24, said Monday that the movement does "not consent to allowing the dictatorial majority ... to betray the people, to destroy the balance of democratic power."

Opposition supporters filled Bangkok's major street even as Yingluck announced early elections.

The Associated Press summarizes the root of the country's troubles:

"Thailand has been plagued by major bouts of upheaval since Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled in a 2006 army coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between the elite and educated middle class against Thaksin's power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.

"An attempt by Yingluck's party last month to pass a bill through Parliament that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others triggered the latest round of unrest. Thaksin fled overseas in 2008 to avoid a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated."

At least five people have died and nearly 300 others have been injured in the latest protests. But the violence appeared to end last week ahead of the king's birthday.

As NPR's Scott Neuman noted, King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave an address last week marking his 86th birthday in which he called on his people to do their duty "for stability, security of our nation," in an apparent reference to the protests. But the turmoil deepened on Sunday, when the main opposition party, the Democrat Party, resigned en masse in protest from Parliament to join the anti-government demonstrations. The AP notes that the Democrat Party hasn't won an election since 1992.

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