Thai protesters occupy more ministries as unrest spreads

Thai protesters occupy more ministries as unrest spreads

BANGKOK - Reuters
Thai protesters occupy more ministries as unrest spreads

The demonstrations are expanding and gaining momentum. AFP photo

Thousands of Thai demonstrators massed Nov. 27 outside four ministries, a major government office complex and 19 provincial halls in an effort to cripple the administration and oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The Department of Special Investigation, the country’s equivalent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, was evacuated as about 2,000 protesters rallying against Yingluck and her influential brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, surrounded a state-agency center in a Bangkok suburb. The demonstrations have been going on for weeks but are expanding and gaining momentum. Five ministries in the capital were evacuated in the past two days and protesters are occupying the Finance Ministry.

Groups of demonstrators gathered Nov. 27 in front of the ministries of labor, energy, health and commerce in Bangkok, and according to a senior Interior Ministry official, local government offices in 19 provinces.

The protests are all-too familiar in Thailand, which has seen eight years of on-off turmoil, from crippling street rallies to controversial judicial rulings and army intervention, each time with Thaksin at the center of the tumult.

No use of force

Despite fleeing into exile to dodge a jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008, billionaire former telecommunications mogul Thaksin has loomed large over Thai politics.

He won the support of the rural poor who voted him twice into office, in 2001 and 2005, before he was ousted in a 2006 coup. His supporters remain fiercely loyal to him and swept Yingluck to power in an election landslide in 2011. Most of the 19 provinces where demonstrators had massed are in the south, a traditional stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party, although four were in the north and northeast, where the Shinawatra family is hugely popular.

Fearing clashes could erupt and further weaken her government, Yingluck said police would keep the peace. “My government will not use force. This is not the ‘Thaksin regime,’ this is a democratically elected government,” Yingluck told reporters outside Parliament, where she is being grilled by opposition lawmakers in a two-day confidence debate.