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Thai Protesters Occupy State Buildings

  • VOA News

Thai anti-government demonstrators are expanding their protests at key state buildings in Bangkok in an effort to oust the prime minister, who is facing a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Several thousand opposition protesters surrounded the Interior Ministry on Tuesday, and have vowed to stay throughout the night. Protesters already seized parts of the finance and foreign ministries a day earlier, and have camped outside several other state buildings.

The protesters are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They say her government is controlled by what they view as her corrupt brother, the ousted and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protests are being led by the opposition Democrat Party, which has simultaneously launched a no-confidence debate in parliament. Yingluck, whose Pheu Thai party dominates parliament, is expected to easily survive the motion. She told lawmakers on Tuesday that she will not step down.

"The accusations are strong and unjust for me, the leader of this government for two years,” said Yingluck.

The street protests are the largest in Thailand since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in a military crackdown on an opposition protest. Prime Minister Yingluck has insisted the military will not use violence to clear the protests.

On Monday evening, the government expanded an emergency security law that gives police wide authorities to deal with the protests to cover the entirety of Bangkok and several surrounding areas. There has so far been no attempt to clear the protesters from the state buildings.

In a sign of the rising tension, police reported they found an unexploded grenade outside a Democrat Party office in Bangkok.

Police have also issued an arrest warrant, approved by a Thai court Tuesday, for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. The ex-Democrat leader is wanted in connection with the occupation of the government buildings.

The mass protests were triggered several weeks ago by an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home and avoid a two-year jail term for corruption.

That bill was rejected by the Senate, but opposition-led protests have continued. Meanwhile, pro-government protesters held their own rally at a Bangkok stadium and have vowed not to leave until the opposition calls off its demonstration.

The protests have prompted statements from several foreign governments, including the United States. The State Department said Monday it is "concerned about the rising political tension in Thailand."

It urged "all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law," and said "violence and the seizure of public or private property are not acceptable means of resolving political differences."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra came to power in 2011. Her brother, Thaksin, was toppled by a coup in 2006 and later was convicted of corruption. He has lived in exile to escape the charges, which he says were politically motivated.