Demonstrators flood streets with vow to topple government
Prime minister offers to negotiate amid peaceful protests
BANGKOK | Flag-waving protesters vowing to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took to the streets of Bangkok for a fourth day Wednesday, massing in the thousands at a half-dozen government ministries and raising fears of fresh political violence.
The protests were peaceful, and as night fell, the Yingluck administration still controlled every ministry except the Finance Ministry.
“Whether we succeed or not is not the most important [thing],” said Taweesak Maham, a 55-year-old Bangkok resident. “What’s important is that the people in the country came out this time to be understood, to symbolically show what the people want.”
In a city of some 10 million people, the demonstrators appeared to number in the tens of thousands — far less than the 100,000-plus mustered when they began Sunday. The numbers indicate they are unlikely to bring down the government without more popular support.
By late afternoon, throngs had massed inside or around at least six of the government’s 19 ministries, although they left half of them after a few hours.
One large group led by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban entered a sprawling government office complex that houses the Department of Special Investigation, the country’s equivalent of the FBI, and prepared to camp there overnight.
Ms. Yingluck repeatedly has offered to negotiate an end to the crisis. So far, security forces have not even fired tear gas to prevent protesters from forcing the closure of multiple government offices.
“We must not regard this as a win-or-lose situation,” Ms. Yingluck told reporters at parliament. “Today, no one is winning or losing, only the country is hurting.”
A Thai tourism official said the country has lost 300,000 tourists so far, at a cost of a half-billion U.S. dollars.
Late Tuesday, police issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Suthep, a former lawmaker. There appeared to be no attempt to detain him, however, as he led 6,000 supporters Wednesday out of the Finance Ministry, which had been converted into an ad hoc protest headquarters since crowds stormed it Monday.
Many of the occupiers are from the country’s south, Mr. Suthep’s homeland and the stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party.
Mr. Suthep says his goal is to replace the government with a non-elected council, a change he said is necessary to eradicate the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, Ms. Yingluck’s billionaire older brother, was ousted in a 2006 military coup and fled the country to avoid a prison term on a corruption conviction. He continues to divide the nation.
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 populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
The anti-government campaign started last month after Ms. 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 Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier leading the protest movement, talks to anti-government protesters outside the government complex in Bangkok.