Bangkok Protesters Raid Finance Ministry Compound
International New York Times | 25 Nov. 2013
BANGKOK — Anti-government protesters raided the compound of Thailand’s Finance Ministry and entered the grounds of the Foreign Ministry on Monday, in the latest escalation of a long-running battle between supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire former prime minister whose party has a commanding majority in Parliament and determined opponents in Bangkok.
Tens of thousands of protesters, who staged one of Thailand’s largest demonstrations in years on Sunday, split into a dozen groups early on Monday and marched through Bangkok chanting “Get out!” — apparently directed to Mr. Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister, and others in Mr. Thaksin’s circle.
Late on Monday, Ms. Yingluck responded by expanding the application of a security law to cover all of Bangkok and some surrounding areas, giving her powers to “prevent, suppress, eradicate and overcome” threats to national security.
The invasion of the two ministries on Monday recalled protests against Mr. Thaksin and his allies in 2008, when demonstrators occupied and shut down the prime minister’s office and Bangkok’s main international airport.
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister who is one of the leaders of the current protests, led the takeover of the Finance Ministry, shouting instructions to protesters from atop a large truck.
“Everyone get in the building!” Mr. Suthep said as his supporters blew ear-piercing whistles. The protesters eventually turned off the electricity in the building at his urging, “so that the police will not receive their daily allowance.”
Protesters could be seen napping and snacking in two of the ministry’s conference rooms in the afternoon, and . by evening, they were starting to camp out in the courtyard. Though riot police officers have been deployed in Bangkok for several weeks, none were visible in the compound.
Mr. Suthep said protesters had chosen to occupy the Finance Ministry because it is at the heart of the government. “From now on, this government can no longer transfer money,” he said. “Not a single coin will be used by the Thaksin regime any more.”
Protesters also entered the grounds of the Foreign Ministry late in the day, but did not gain entry to the main building. There, too, the protesters planned to stay overnight in the courtyard, organizers said.
Mr. Suthep has not detailed specific goals for the protests, but he has said that dissolution of Parliament or resignation of a few government ministers would not satisfy him.
“We will not stop fighting until the Thaksin regime is entirely eradicated from Thailand,” he told the crowd on Sunday.
Mr. Thaksin, who has lived overseas since a conviction for abuse of power in 2008, maintains strong support in the populous northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand. Many analysts, including some of his opponents, say that his party, Pheu Thai, would probably win a fresh election if one is called.
Mr. Thaksin’s opponents say they are concerned that he has accumulated too much power in Thailand and are angry that he appears to be making policy decisions from abroad.
The current protests began several weeks ago, in what proved to be a successful effort to force the government to withdraw a wide-reaching amnesty bill that would have eased Mr. Thaksin’s return to Thailand. But to the chagrin of some business associations in the country, which fear economic fallout from the protests, the demonstrations have continued despite the amnesty bill’s defeat.
Independent analysts have criticized what they say appears to be an open-ended protest. “The protest leaders need to clarify their demands,” Yuttaporn Issarachai, the dean of political science at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said Monday on Thai television.
Mr. Yuttaporn said he worried about the possibility of clashes between rival protesters. Thousands of government supporters have gathered at a sports stadium in Bangkok.
Mr. Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 until the military removed him from power in a coup d'état in 2006, cemented his support in the northern rural areas through policies such as universal health care and microloans to villagers.
Ms. Yingluck has continued to put populist policies in place in her two and a half years in power. Some of those programs have come at great cost to the country’s finances. News services reported Monday that the government was having trouble finding enough buyers for 75 billion baht, or $2.3 billion, in bonds that it needs to sell to finance a program that pays farmers well above market price for rice.