Flag-waving protesters vowing to topple the Thai prime minister took to the streets of Bangkok for a fourth day yesterday, declaring they would take over “every ministry” of the government.
The brash threat is the boldest challenge yet to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s embattled administration, and it has raised fears of fresh political violence in the divided Southeast Asian nation.
However, in a city of some 10 million people, the demonstrators appeared to number only in the tens of thousands — far less than the 100,000-plus mustered when they began on Sunday.
The numbers indicate they are unlikely to bring down the government on their own without more popular support, or judicial or military intervention.
“Whether we succeed or not is not the most important” thing, said Taweesak Maham, a 55-year-old Bangkok resident. “What’s important is that the people in the country came out this time to be understood, to symbolically show what the people want.”
Whistle-blowing demonstrators had massed inside or around at least six of the government’s 19 ministries by late afternoon, as well as a sprawling government office complex that houses the Department of Special Investigations, the country’s equivalent of the FBI.
Yingluck has repeatedly said she wants to avert violence and offered to negotiate an end to the crisis. So far, security forces have not even fired tear gas to prevent protesters from forcing the closure of multiple government offices.
“We must not regard this as a win-or-lose situation,” Yingluck told reporters at parliament. “Today no one is winning or losing, only the country is hurting.”
A tourism official said the country has lost 300,000 tourists from the ongoing protests so far, at a cost of half a billion US dollars.
Late on Tuesday, police issued an arrest warrant for former Thai deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is leading the protest movement. He camped out overnight at the Finance Ministry, which has been converted into an ad-hoc protest headquarters since crowds stormed it on Monday, closing it down. However, there appeared to be no attempt to detain Suthep as he led about 6,000 supporters out of the ministry early yesterday.
The crowd eventually grew to 10,000 people, while thousands more marched from another base at the city’s Democracy Monument and other smaller groups gathered elsewhere, waving Thai flags.
An army intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, estimated the total number of demonstrators at less than 20,000 by midday, but those numbers were likely to grow as supporters joined them on the streets.
On Tuesday, Suthep announced for the first time his goal is to replace the government with a non-elected council, a change he said was necessary to eradicate the political machine of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s older brother.
Akanat Promphan, a protest spokesman, earlier said the offensive to seize government offices would be extended nationwide yesterday, but the call appeared to be little-heeded.
Yingluck’s government is also fending off sharp criticism during a parliamentary no-confidence debate this week. A vote is expected today, although it would be impossible to unseat Yingluck since her party controls the House of Representatives.