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Thai protests paralyse more ministries

26 November 2013, 19:52

Bangkok - Thai opposition protesters besieged several more ministries in Bangkok on Tuesday in a bid to topple the government, as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faced a no-confidence motion in parliament and warned against "mob rule".

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied against Yingluck and her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in the biggest street protests since 2010, when more than 90 civilians were killed in a military crackdown.

Fresh turmoil in the politically turbulent country has sparked international concern and raised fears of a new bout of street violence.

Demonstrators surrounded the interior, agriculture, transport, and sports and tourism ministries, ordering officials inside to leave, a day after occupying the finance and foreign ministries.

"We have to leave because they [the protesters] will cut the utilities," tourism and sports minister Somsak Pureesrisak told AFP.

Around 1,500 protesters, waving Thai flags and blowing whistles, marched to the interior ministry, which was heavily guarded by several hundred security personnel, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Demonstrators gave officials an ultimatum to leave within one hour, threatening to "close the ministry".

Unlike at the interior ministry, most of the government buildings taken over had only a light security presence outside.

Legal and institutional challenges

But on the streets more generally, police numbers have been increased in Bangkok in response to the expansion late Monday of the Internal Security Act, which gives authorities additional powers to block routes, impose a curfew, ban gatherings and carry out searches.

Yingluck on Tuesday reiterated a vow that authorities would "absolutely not use violence" as she arrived at parliament, which was guarded by dozens of police.

"Everybody must obey the law and not use mob rule to upstage the rule of law," she told reporters.

MPs began debating the no-confidence motion, which was put forward by the opposition Democrat Party last week as part of a barrage of legal and institutional challenges to Yingluck's embattled government.

The ruling Puea Thai party holds a comfortable majority and is expected to win the censure vote expected later in the week.

Recent protests were sparked by Puea Thai plans to introduce an amnesty that could have allowed the return from self-imposed exile of Thaksin, a deeply polarising figure who was deposed by royalist generals in a 2006 coup.

Outrage over that plan failed to ebb after the amnesty was quashed by the Senate on 11 November.

On Monday, protesters marched on more than a dozen state agencies across the capital, as well as several television stations.

Strong support

There were no immediate signs that authorities were moving to evict them Tuesday but authorities said demonstrators appeared to be leaving the foreign ministry.

Television images showed protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who resigned from the Democrats to lead the protest, at the finance ministry surrounded by supporters.

In a press conference broadcast on the opposition's television channel, a rally spokesman insisted protesters would wait until Wednesday before making a "big move".

"We are occupying the finance ministry in a non-violent and peaceful way, so our supporters around the country can do the same and occupy all government offices," said Akanat Promphan, speaking on behalf of Suthep, who had lost his voice after Monday's tub-thumping rally speeches.

Both the United States and Britain have raised concerns over the street action.

The rallies are the biggest challenge yet for Yingluck, who swept to power in 2011 polls on a wave of Thaksin support from the "Red Shirts", whose 2010 protests were crushed by the then Democrat-led government.

Many Red Shirts were also angered by the amnesty proposal, believing it would have pardoned those responsible for the 2010 crackdown, but they have since rallied in support of the government, with thousands massing in a stadium in Bangkok.

"Suthep is not trying to throw out the government... he wants to throw out democracy and replace it with an ultra-royalist administration," Red Shirt leader Thida Thavornseth told AFP.

Thaksin draws strong support from many of the country's rural and urban working class. But he is loathed by the elite and the middle classes, who accuse him of being corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.

A series of protests by the royalist "Yellow Shirts" helped to trigger the coup that toppled Thaksin, who now lives abroad to avoid a prison term for corruption that he contends was politically motivated.



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