Thai opposition protesters marched on key state communications targets yesterday after vowing a final push to topple the government, as the capital braces for mass rival rallies. Defiant demonstrators have besieged key government buildings in Bangkok in the biggest street protests since mass rallies in 2010 degenerated into the kingdom’s worst civil strife in decades.
The protesters — a mix of royalists, southerners and the urban middle class sometimes numbering in their tens of thousands — are united by their loathing of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The controversial former telecoms tycoon was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile, but he is widely believed to be the real power behind the embattled government of his younger sister Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Several thousand antigovernment protesters were scattered across five bases in the capital yesterday, according to city police.
Turnout is expected to spike over the weekend as organizers seek a final push ahead of celebrations for Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday on Dec. 5, which is traditionally marked in an atmosphere of calm and respect.
They declared today a “day of victory,” with plans to gather near the heavily guarded Government House, besiege more important buildings — even Bangkok’s zoo — and to tighten their blockade of government ministry buildings.
Protesters yesterday began surrounding offices of the Telephone Organization of Thailand and the Communications Authority of Thailand, two key state telecoms firms.
“We will control the area, like we did at the finance ministry, and ask staff not to work. So on Monday [tomorrow] everything will shut down,” rally spokesman Akanat Promphan said.
The Thai Ministry of Information and Communications Technology said that back-up systems were in place and communications in Thailand would not be affected.
Protesters are demanding the end of the “Thaksin regime” and want to replace the government with an unelected “people’s council.”
Demonstrators on Friday forced open the gates of the compound of the army headquarters in Bangkok and occupied the lawn inside for several hours, calling on the military to support their fight to bring down the government.
It was the latest in a string of provocative moves targeting a symbol of state power, which have made headlines, but failed to rattle the government into acting to disperse their rallies.
“The prime minister has given clear orders for authorities to deal leniently with protesters and not to use violence,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog said on television yesterday.
Yingluck has faced down a barrage of legal and institutional challenges in recent weeks from the opposition Democrat Party, many of whose members have taken to the streets with the antigovernment protesters.
Her ruling Puea Thai party came to power in 2011 elections on a wave of Thaksin support, after a bloody 2010 military crackdown on Red Shirt protests under the then-Democrat government left about 90 people dead.
The pro-Thaksin Red Shirts also plan a weekend rally, with about 20,000 people gathered in a stadium in Bangkok yesterday. They have so far shown no intention of taking to the streets of the capital.
Thaksin is adored by many of the country’s rural and urban working class, but hated by many southerners, middle-class Thais and the Bangkok elite, who see him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.