11/27/2013, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thai opposition protest spreads from Bangkok

Yellow Shirts lay siege to government offices and ministries; in the southern provinces they storm local government buildings. Thailand's prime minister asks for special powers to contain the protest. Sources tell AsiaNews that "the situation is beginning to be worrisome" but remains calm. A power struggle is behind the unrest.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - In Bangkok, yellow-shirt protesters occupied the offices of Thailand's top crime-fighting agency, forcing employees to leave. Since the opposition launched the movement four days ago, demonstrations have spread from the capital to the southern provinces. Their demand is the same, namely the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government. Through her, protesters believe, her brother Thaksin is still running the country.

This morning, a crowd surrounded the Ministries of the Interior, Tourism, Transport and Agriculture, after besieging Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Finance overnight.

Sources told AsiaNews that "the situation is beginning to be worrisome," but added that there is no reason to fear a repeat of the carnage of 2010.

These are the largest protests against the government and the Shinawatras since 2010, when the kingdom was shaken by large-scale unrest that ended in a bloodbath with the deaths of 90 civilians.

Deputy opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban is leading the protest.

For protesters, Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra is the government's true eminence grise. A self-made billionaire, he went into exile to avoid a prison sentence for corruption.

Last night, the prime minister asked for special powers in order to impose a curfew and set up checkpoints across the city.

The government has excluded using force against protesters, but has demanded a return to the rule of law and the end of the siege to government buildings, which "threatens country's stability." Thousands of protesters disagree and continue to surround important ministries.

In the last hours, government offices have come under siege in 19 provinces in the south, a stronghold of the opposition. The aim is to paralyse the government and cause its fall.

An expert on Thai politics, who asked that his name be withheld, said that for now things are "peaceful and unfolding in a calm atmosphere," but protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is starting to push." A warrant for his arrest has been issued.

The biggest fear, as always, is that of a military coup. "Top army brass are first and foremost interested in the nation's stability and one cannot rule out that they might intervene," especially since most generals are favourable to the yellow-shirts and the establishment, which is unfavourably disposed to the current government and has been working to cause its fall.

The country appears divided between Bangkok and the establishment and people living in rural areas, especially in the country's north and northeast for whom the Shinawatra family represents the defence of rights, in addition to a political force that promotes real programmes for the improvement of living conditions.

"Everyone knows that most people are for Thaksin and the current government," the analyst said. "This is something the opposition can't stand, so they stir people up, even paying some to demonstrate. We do not know how much the latter are into this protest."

With the fall of the Thaksin's administration in 2006, Thailand saw a wave of protests that led to social and political instability.

The latest chapter was triggered by the government's amnesty bill, which would (among other things) allow Thaksin Shinawatra to return from exile.

The proposal, which was recently rejected by the Senate, has also angered government supporters because it would have pardoned those responsible for the massacres of 2010.

For Prime Minister Yingluck's government, which has a big majority in parliament and is not likely to lose a vote in the House, this is the most critical time since she came to power in 2011.

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