Thai anti-government protests spread beyond Bangkok

Activists rallied outside more than a dozen provincial halls in the south, including the tourist island of Phuket

Thailand's massive anti-government protests stretched beyond the capital city of Bangkok on Wednesday, as opposition demonstrators stepped up their attempts to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government.

Demonstrators rallied outside at least a dozen provincial halls in the South, including the tourist island of Phuket.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied against Yingluck and her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in the biggest street protests since 2010, when more than 90 civilians were killed in a military crackdown.

After an arrest warrant was issued for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, he called for all government offices in all provinces to be occupied.

The rallies in six southern provinces followed Suthep’s call Tuesday night from the Ministry of Finance, which had been occupied by protesters, the Bangkok Post reported.

In the South, demonstrators converged on the main provincial offices in Trang, Phuket, Surat Thani, Chumphon, Songkhla, and Satun. They did not enter the offices.

Meanwhile, in Bangkok, raucous, whistle-blowing crowds continued their siege on government buildings. Up to 10,000 protesters gathered Wednesday at a large office complex on the northern outskirts of Bangkok that houses several key governmental agencies.

Their numbers swelled dramatically as Suthep marched into the compound. "We are very upbeat and I think we will win in a few days," the former deputy premier and key opposition figure told reporters as he left his de facto headquarters at the occupied finance ministry.

"If we demolish the Thaksin regime ... we will set up a people's council which will come from people from every sector," he said. "Then we will let the people's council pick good people to be the prime minister and ministers."

Paralyze the government

Thaksin draws strong support from many in the country’s rural and urban working class, and his supporters are known as the “Red Shirts,” having traditionally worn the color during their earlier demonstrations. He is loathed by many in the elite and middle classes, who accuse him of being corrupt and a threat to the monarchy. These loyalists are known as “Yellow Shirts.”

Thai protesters have steadily occupied more government offices this week in an effort to topple Yingluck's government, defying the imposition of a special security law in the capital.

Demonstrators in Bangkok surrounded the interior, agriculture, transport, and sports and tourism ministries, ordering officials inside to leave Tuesday, a day after occupying the finance and foreign ministries.

Police numbers have been increased in the sprawling capital in response to the act, which gives authorities additional powers to block roads, impose a curfew, ban gatherings and the use of electronic devices in designated areas, and carry out searches.

“We have told protesters that after the ISA (Internal Security Act) was invoked across Bangkok, they are violating the law by trespassing in ministries,” said National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut.

The incursions into the Finance and Foreign Affairs Ministries were the boldest acts yet in opposition-led protests that started last month and highlighted the protesters’ new strategy of paralyzing the government by forcing civil servants to stop working.

There were no immediate signs that authorities were moving to evict the protesters from government buildings. Peaceful rallies are allowed under the law.

Yingluck reiterated a vow that authorities would “absolutely not use violence” as she arrived at parliament early Tuesday. “Everybody must obey the law and not use mob rule to upstage the rule of law,” she said.

Members of parliament Tuesday began debating a no-confidence motion, which was put forward by the opposition Democrat Party last week as part of a barrage of legal and institutional challenges to Yingluck’s embattled government.

The ruling Puea Thai party holds a comfortable majority in parliament and is expected to win a censure vote.

The protests were sparked by Puea Thai plans to introduce a political amnesty bill that could have allowed the return from self-imposed exile of Thaksin, a deeply polarizing figure who was deposed by royalist generals in a 2006 coup.

Outrage over that plan failed to ebb after the amnesty was quashed by the Senate on Nov. 11.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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