Antigov't protesters start "shutdown rally" in Bangkok

Antigovernment protesters blocked main roads and intersections Monday in Bangkok as they staged a "shutdown rally" aimed at toppling the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The big crowds of protesters have blocked main roads in northern and central Bangkok including business and shopping places, putting pressure on the Yingluck government that has vowed to stay in power until elections are held.

Yingluck held a special meeting Monday with ministers concerning the rally, while nearly 30,000 police and soldiers were deployed in the rally areas to ensure safety.

Yingluck recently reiterated that the general election will be held as scheduled, even though the Election Commission called for it to be rescheduled in light of the political turmoil.

The army chief, Prayut Cha-ocha, also called a meeting of the military top brass to monitor the situation amid rumors of a potential military coup if the violence gets out of control.

The army chief has said the government has to take responsibility if the violence escalates and causes casualties. However, he urged all sides to avoid violence and confrontation.

On Sunday, the government designated zones that the protesters planned to occupy as off-limits in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent them gaining access.

Under the shutdown, besides occupying several key intersections in the capital, the protesters led by former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban plan to cut off electricity and water supply to government agencies and also Yingluck's private residence.

Aside from the caretaker government's resignation, the protesters demand the setting up of an interim government and a people's council tasked with conducting political reform before the next general election takes place.

Eight people have been killed and 470 people injured since the political violence in Bangkok erupted in early November.

Yingluck's government has faced a serious political crisis since early November after the lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill that many believed to be chiefly aimed at benefiting her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006 and fled the country two years later after being convicted of corruption and other charges. The bill was later voted down in the Senate.