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Weeks of mounting tension erupt into the largest street protests since 2010 with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra under increasing pressure to resign
Opponents of Thailand’s ruling Pheu Thai Party forced their way into the foreign and finance ministries in Bangkok Monday, a day after 100,000 anti-government protesters called for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.
The demonstrations are the biggest since 2010, when the Thai capital was engulfed in weeks of deadly violence between the red shirt supporters of Pheu Thai and the yellow shirts who back the opposition Democrat Party.
Blowing whistles and waving Thai flags, an estimated 1,000 protesters broke into the finance ministry in the early afternoon, taking over seven floors of the building and forcing the staff to evacuate to the car park. Another group entered the compound of the foreign ministry, but said they would not occupy the building itself.
Tensions between the rival political groups have been mounting following a failed attempt earlier this month by Pheu Thai to push a controversial amnesty bill through parliament.
Critics claimed the legislation would have allowed the return from exile of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck’s brother.
Pheu Thai’s opponents regard Ms Yingluck as a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who was overthrown in a 2006 military coup and fled Thailand two years later to avoid corruption charges. Many believe he continues to run the country from his base in Dubai.
“Our only objective is to overthrow the Thaksin regime,” said Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the protesters and a former Democrat Party MP.
Mr Suthep called on the demonstrators to occupy all government offices on Tuesday.
So far, the protests have been peaceful and the Thai army has stayed in its barracks.
Yet, with around 40,000 red shirts gathered in a sports stadium on the outskirts of Bangkok, there are increasing fears of a repeat of the violence of 2010, when 90 people died and thousands were injured.
“By occupying the finance ministry, the whole dynamic has changed,” Pitch Pongsawat, a professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told the Telegraph. “Everyone is pushing the situation to the maximum.”
Ms Yingluck suffered a further blow last week after a bill to make Thailand’s Senate an all-elected chamber was dismissed by the courts as unconstitutional.
An anti-government rally staged in central Bangkok on Sunday attracted an estimated 100,000 people.
On Monday, though, Ms Yingluck dismissed the calls for her to step down. “I have no intention of resigning or dissolving parliament,” she said.
A no-confidence debate in Ms Yingluck and the Pheu Thai government begins tomorrow.
But any subsequent election would likely be won by Pheu Thai, which commands huge support in the heavily-populated north and northeast of the country.