Thai protesters force evacuation of govt building
Date created : Latest update :
Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation was on Wednesday evacuated after anti-government protesters surrounded it in a bid to seize ‘every ministry’ belonging to the embattled government.
Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (the equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US) was evacuated on Wednesday after approximately a thousand anti-government protesters stormed the building in a coordinated bid to shut down every major government building belonging to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's embattled government.
Since Monday, demonstrators have occupied several state buildings in the Thai capital, including the finance and foreign ministries, in an attempt to topple the administration which they accuse of being a puppet administration run by the premier’s billionaire older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
The rallies are the biggest seen in the country since the deadly demonstrations in 2010 and have now also spread outside the capital Bangkok.
Former prime minister Thaksin, who fled the country after his ouster to avoid a two-year prison sentence for corruption, continues to sharply divide the nation, with his supporters and opponents battling for power.
In broad terms, the confrontation pits the Thai elite and the educated middle-class against Thaksin’s power base in the countryside, which benefited from his populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
Calls to seize ‘every ministry’
In a speech late Tuesday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban announced his movement’s goal is to replace the government with a non-elected council, a change he said was necessary to eradicate the political machine of Thaksin.
“Let the people go to every ministry that remains to make civil servants stop serving the Thaksin regime,” Suthep said. “Once you take over, civil servants can no longer serve the Thaksin regime. Brothers and sisters, go seize the city hall.”
Suthep served as deputy prime minister under a previous Democrat Party administration, which faced mass protests led by Thaksin’s “Red Shirt” supporters in 2010 who occupied Bangkok’s city center for two months. Those demonstrations ended in a police crackdown which left about 90 people dead and left swathes of downtown in flames.
On Sunday, more than 100,000 anti-government demonstrators staged the country’s biggest protest in years.
Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, and the Democrats were crushed by Yingluck’s ruling party during a landslide vote that brought her to power in 2011.
Yingluck called for calm and offered to negotiate with the protest leaders.
“If we can talk, I believe the country will return to normal,” she said.
She has vowed not to use violence to stop the protests.
The protests and forced shutdown of several government ministries have dealt a significant blow to Yingluck’s government, who has also fended off sharp criticism during a parliamentary no-confidence debate this week.
Fears of new wave of political instability
The occupations have drawn criticism from both the United States and the European Union which have called on “all concerned to avoid escalation and to resolve differences through peaceful means.”
On Tuesday, demonstrators surrounded the Interior Ministry and then cut off the electricity and water to pressure people inside to leave. Security personnel locked themselves behind the ministry’s gates, with employees still inside. The transport, agriculture and tourism ministries were also closed because of the presence of protesters.
The occupations have raised fears of violence and worries that Thailand is entering a new period of political instability.
The anti-government campaign started last month after Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party tried to pass an amnesty bill that critics said was designed to absolve Thaksin and others of politically related offenses and allow him to return home. The Senate rejected the bill in a bid to end the protests, but the rallies have gained momentum.
Suthep has rejected new elections, which the now-opposition Democrats are certain to lose. In a speech Tuesday to followers at the Finance Ministry, he called for a change of the country’s parliamentary system.
“If we take down the Thaksin regime tomorrow, we will set up a people’s council the day after tomorrow,” he told the cheering crowd on Tuesday. “Let the people’s council pick a good man to be the prime minister, good men to be ministers. Make it a dream team, make a Cabinet of your dream and the people’s government.”
Akanat Promphan, a protest spokesman, earlier said the offensive to seize government offices would be extended nationwide on Wednesday.
Separately Tuesday, the Democrat Party launched a parliamentary no-confidence debate against Yingluck. They accused her administration of corruption and called her an incompetent puppet. The vote has no chance of unseating Yingluck as her party controls the House of Representatives.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)