BANGKOK — Protesters in Thailand’s capital entered the Finance Ministry compound Monday in an escalating campaign to topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
A crowd of protesters swarmed into the compound’s courtyard and then entered buildings, including the ministry itself and the Budget Bureau, in the boldest act yet of opposition-led protests that started last month. The intrusion was one of several tense encounters on a day when protesters fanned out to 13 locations across Bangkok, snarling traffic and raising concerns of violence in Thailand’s ongoing political crisis.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister and opposition lawmaker, urged the crowd to enter the Budget Bureau and to cut electricity and water to pressure the agency to stop financing government projects.
“Go up to every floor, go into every room, but do not destroy anything,” Suthep told the crowd, standing on a truck and speaking through a megaphone. “Make them see this is people’s power.”
Protesters say they want Yingluck to step down amid claims that her government is controlled by her older brother, ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Monday’s rally came a day after about 100,000 people marched in Bangkok, staging the largest rally Thailand has seen in years.
More than two dozen Bangkok schools along the protest route were closed Monday and police tightened security at the protest destinations, which included the military and police headquarters and the five television stations controlled by the military or the government.
Despite the heavy police presence at most protest sites, there was limited security at the Finance Ministry, which allowed protesters easy access. There was no immediate report of clashes or moves to evict the protesters.
Many fear that clashes could erupt between the anti-government protesters and Thaksin’s supporters, who are staging their own rally at a Bangkok stadium and have vowed to stay put until the opposition calls off its demonstration.
Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have battled for power since a 2006 military coup ousted the former prime minister, who was toppled following street protests accusing him of corruption and disrespect for the country’s constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for the past five years to avoid a prison sentence on a corruption conviction.