Protesters in Thailand’s capital have entered the finance ministry compound in an escalating campaign to topple the government and put an end to what they say is the continued influence of the deposed former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
A crowd of protesters swarmed into the compound’s courtyard and then entered buildings, including the ministry itself and the Budget Bureau on Monday, in the boldest act yet of opposition-led protests that started last month.
The intrusion was one of several tense encounters on a day when protesters fanned out to 13 locations across Bangkok, snarling traffic and raising concerns of violence in Thailand’s ongoing political crisis.
I have no intention to resign or dissolve the House. The cabinet can still function.
Shortly after the protesters burst into the ministry, the building’s power was cut. Reuters news agency reported that about 1,000 protesters had entered the compound.
More than 30,000 protesters chanted “Get Out!” as they spread across the city on Monday to government offices, military and naval bases and state television channels.
Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s current prime minister and sister of Thaksin, has refused to step aside.
“I have no intention to resign or dissolve the House,” she told reporters. “The cabinet can still function, even though we are facing some difficulties. All sides have shown their political aims; now they must turn to face each other and talk in order to find a peaceful way out for the country.”
Demonstrations were triggered last month by a since-shelved government plan to grant amnesty to Thaksin, in self-imposed exile since 2008, and pardon those responsible for a 2010 military crackdown on pro-government “Red Shirt” supporters that left more than 90 people dead.
The opposing group, who stand against the government, are known as the “Yellow Shirts.”
Though the bill has been dropped for the time being, the protests have escalated into an all-out call for government change and the toppling of Yingluck, who faces a no-confidence debate on Tuesday.
“This week is precarious. The options are very limited for the government,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Protesters marched to 12 buildings, including the Royal Thai Army headquarters, to urge civil servants to join their campaign.
“We will protest peacefully, blowing whistles and handing out flowers,” Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister under the previous Democrat-led government and now leader of the anti-government campaign, told a massive crowd on the weekend.
Thailand’s National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr said as many as 180,000 people turned up to demonstrate on Sunday, while police estimates put the crowd at 100,000.
A constitutional court also blocked Yingluck’s plans this week to create a fully-elected Senate, which would have enabled her to consolidate power in both of Thailand’s houses of parliament.
“This is a demonstration that is taking on historic proportions,” Al Jazeera’s Veronica Pedrosa reported from the protests in Bangkok.
“The people who have turned up are united in their push to kick the prime minister and the influence of her brother out of leadership, out of power. They want to dismantle those networks.”
The political protests are the most significant in Thailand since the bloody rallies in 2010.
Thaksin, who won elections in 2001 and 2005 by landslides, remains a populist hero among the poor, whose votes helped Yingluck and her party sweep polls in 2011.
But corruption scandals steadily eroded his popularity among Bangkok’s middle class.