JNN 29 Nov 2013 Bangkok : More than 1,000 anti-government protesters entered and occupied the compound of Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, witnesses from the scene reported. The country’s Finance Ministry building has also been besieged by rioters.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has invoked the Internal Security Act, extending it to Samut Prakarn Province, where Bangkok’s main airport is located.
The Internal Security Act gives Thai security forces the power to impose curfews, block roads and stop vehicles, restrict movements of protesters, ban large gatherings and detain people without trial if rallies get out of hand.
Yingluck, however, vowed that she will not use force against the protesters occupying government buildings.
Witnesses told Reuters that protesters lifted the main gate of the Foreign Ministry on Monday evening and drove a car and a six-wheel truck into the compound to use as a temporary stage.
Leaders of the protest then announced they would occupy the compound and hold it overnight.
While confirming that protesters forced their way into the ministry’s premises, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said they “promised” not to enter any of its buildings, AP reported.
“We are now asking them to provide ways for the officials who were still working to leave the offices and they will likely have to work from home tomorrow,” the spokesman said.
The leader of the protest movement, aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has urged the demonstrators to seize other government buildings.
“I invite protesters to stay here overnight at the Finance Ministry,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told a crowd gathered in front of the Finance Ministry. “I urge other protesters to do the same and seize other government buildings and offices around the country.”
“Go up to every floor, go into every room, but do not destroy anything. Make them see this is people’s power!” Suthep, a former deputy prime minister and opposition lawmaker, was quoted as saying by AP before he entered the ministry.
Shortly after the seizure of the Finance Ministry, power was cut in the building.
Later on, hundreds of anti-government protesters gathered outside Thailand’s Public Relations Department.
The swiftly rising political tension came as more than 30,000 demonstrators marched to 13 areas across the city, raising the risk of a clash with police, a day after about 100,000 gathered in the city’s historic quarter.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Yingluck, who faces a no-confidence debate on Tuesday and whom the outraged crowds of protesters want out of office, said she has “no intention of resigning or dissolving the House.”
The seizure of Thai government buildings follows weeks of protests against the amnesty bill that would allow the return of the ousted prime minister from exile and would pardon those responsible for an army intervention in bloody 2010 protests. Back then, more than 90 people were killed in violent clashes.
Although the bill was thwarted in parliament, protesters remained in the streets and called for the government’s ouster, which they believe acts on behalf of the billionaire former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who is current PM Yingluck’s brother. Protesters say Thaksin rules through Yingluck, calling her merely a proxy
Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party, which has a majority of seats in Thailand’s parliament, openly supports Thaksin Shinawatra.
An anti-government rally on Sunday brought up to 180,000 demonstrators on to the streets of Bangkok, AFP reported.
However, the country remained divided as tens of thousands of loyalists also gathered in different locations in Bangkok to support Yingluck. Thousands of pro-government “Red Shirt” demonstrators flocked to a Bangkok stadium Sunday, waving national flags.
Thailand’s current turmoil stems from the 2006 military coup, in which Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted. Since then, the country has seen massive protests by both his opponents and supporters.
In 2008, a crowd of people protesting against the “Thaksin regime” occupied Bangkok’s main airport, shutting it down. In 2010, a huge two-month sit-in held by Thaksin’s supporters paralyzed the capital, ending in violent clashes and a military crackdown.
Despite Thaksin allies’ landslide election victories in recent years, both the country’s judiciary and the military are viewed as a possible counterweight to his power. Since the 2006 coup, court rulings have removed two prime ministers, disbanded four parties, jailed three election commissioners and banned 220 politicians from office, according to Reuters. Thailand’s Army, which remains a major force in the country’s politics, has staged 18 coups since 1932, and is also believed to have intervened in forming several coalition governments.
Anti-government protesters cut power at the Royal Thai Police Force headquarters and an adjacent police hospital. The move comes as the embattled Thai PM called on the opposition to enter talks after surviving a no confidence vote in parliament.
“I confirm the protesters pulled down several electricity cables outside the police headquarters. We are now on back-up electricity, we are using a generator. Electricity at the police general hospital has also been affected,” Anucha Romyanan, deputy national police spokesman, told Reuters on Thursday.
Protesters also began marching towards the defense and education ministries, a day after demonstrators swarmed the government complex housing the Department of Special Investigations (DSI). The agency, often likened to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, was evacuated as a precautionary measure.
The move was prompted by the DSI’s decision to indict firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.
Since occupying Thailand’s Finance Ministry on Monday, Suthep has directed protesters nationwide in an attempt to paralyze the government. The protests, which first hit the streets of Bangkok three weeks ago, reached a fever pitch on Sunday.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the ruling Pheu Thai Party-controlled lower house voted down a censure motion against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra 297-134, AFP reports speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont as saying.
Following the vote on Thursday, Yingluck delivered a televised national address urging demonstrators to end their anti-government rallies.
“I propose to protesters to stop protesting and leave government offices so the civil service can move forward,” she said.
“The government does not want confrontation and is ready to cooperate with everybody to find a solution,” she added.
The PM also said the rallies were hurting the economy, and implored the political opposition to join a panel in order to find a way out of the current crisis.
“The government doesn’t want to enter into any political games because we believe it will cause the economy to deteriorate,” Yingluck said.
Yingluck has said authorities will “absolutely not use violence” to quash the demonstrations. Since then, protesters have accused Yingluck, who was voted into power two-and-a-half years ago, of being a mouthpiece for her self-exiled brother and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
The PM has invoked special powers allowing curfews and road closures, although the protests have thus far remained peaceful. Authorities have also made no attempt to arrest Suthep, indicted for his alleged role in causing the deaths of more than 90 people in a 2010 military crackdown against the so-called ‘red-shirt’ protesters loyal to Thaksin.
“We like peaceful methods,” Suthep told reporters on Wednesday.
Suthep, added, however, that if the opposition did not succeed, “I am prepared to die in the battlefield.”
“The people will quit only when the state power is in their hands,” the former deputy prime minister for the opposition Democrat Party said. “There will be no negotiation.”
UN head Ban Ki-moon has voiced concern over the protests and called for all sides to exercise restraint.
The opposition has promised to put an end to the ‘Thaksin regime,’ marching on ministries and government bodies in a bid to shut them down. The have also demanded the government be replaced with an unelected ‘people’s council,’ a move Yingluck rejected as unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, thousands of flag-waving protesters had amassed around at least half-a-dozen of the government’s 19 ministries, though many had left by late afternoon.
Protesters also descended on around 25 provincial halls mainly in the opposition Democrat Party’s southern heartlands.
Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications mogul who built his political power via a series of populist measures, has ensured the unfaltering allegiance of the rural poor, who twice voted him into office in 2001 and 2005. In 2006, he was ousted in a military coup.
His government faced allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, and suppressing the press. Thaksin was personally accused of tax evasion, lese majeste (insulting revered King Bhumibol – a major crime), and selling off assets of Thai companies to international investors.
Following his 2006 ouster, he briefly returned to Thailand in 2008, where he was convicted by a Thai court later that year of corruption and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison over a controversial land deal.
Failed efforts by his younger sister Yingluck to introduce an amnesty which would see her brother came home sparked the latest round of protests, predominately supported by a coterie of rich and powerful conservatives, military brass, bureaucrats and royalists with influence over the country’s urban middle class.