Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has pleaded for anti-government protesters to clear the streets after she called a snap election.

However, protest leaders have insisted she should step down within 24 hours.

After weeks of sometimes violent street rallies, protesters dismissed her call for a general election and said she should be replaced by an unelected "people's council".

The suggestion has stoked concern that Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy may abandon the democratic process.

Ms Yingluck insisted she would not step down and said she would continue her duties as caretaker prime minister until the election, which is set for 2 Feb.           

"Now that the government has dissolved parliament, I ask that you stop protesting and that all sides work towards elections," she told reporters.

"I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further."             

Tears briefly formed in her eyes as she spoke, before she quickly composed herself.             

The protesters, aligned with Bangkok's royalist elite, want to oust Ms Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.                           

Ms Yingluck, a 46-year-old former businesswoman, had no political experience before entering a 2011 election she won by a landslide thanks to votes from the countryside, where Mr Thaksin built up a devoted following with policies to help the poor.             

In a speech to supporters late last night, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban gave Ms Yingluck 24 hours to step down.            

"We want the government to step aside and create a power vacuum in order to create a people's council," said Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protest group.            

By mid-afternoon only 6,000 protesters were in the historic part of Bangkok around Government House where Ms Yingluck's office is located, police said, a far cry from the 160,000 that converged peacefully on the complex yesterday.             

Today is a public holiday in Thailand and Ms Yingluck attended a ceremony to mark Constitution Day in parliament but only about 1,500 protesters turned up there, police said.