Anti-government protesters break into Thai army compound

Protest leader tells thousands of supporters ‘the end game will happen in the next day or two’

About 1,000 anti-government protesters forced their way into the compound of the Royal Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok today, the latest escalation in a city-wide demonstration seeking to topple prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

“We want to know which side the army stands on,” shouted one protester, as others scrambled over the compound’s red iron gates in Bangkok’s historic quarter. In another area of the city, hundreds gathered outside Ms Shinawatra’s ruling party headquarters, shouting “Get out, get out”.

They accuse her of abusing her party’s parliamentary majority to push through laws that strengthen the behind-the-scenes power of her self-exiled brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yesterday, they rejected her call for dialogue, deepening a conflict that broadly pits the urban middle class against the mostly rural supporters of her brother, a divisive billionaire ousted in a 2006 military coup and central to Thailand’s eight years of on-off turmoil.


The protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime minister in the previous government, told thousands of supporters occupying a state office complex late yesterday that "the end game will happen in the next day or two".

Ms Shinawatra has ruled out resigning or dissolving parliament, and appears intent on riding out the storm. As tension mounts, her government has urged its supporters and the police to avoid confronting the demonstrators, who it says are running out of steam.

“The government will not instigate a violent situation because that is exactly what Suthep wants,” said Udomdet Rattanasatein, a lawmaker from Yingluck’s Puea Thai party.

“We will not be provoked.”

Ms Shinawatra had governed for two years without a major challenge until last month, when her party tried to ram through an amnesty bill that would have expunged her brother’s 2008 graft conviction and cleared the way for his political comeback.

The Senate rejected it, and Ms Shinawatra then shelved it, but the protests escalated, switching from a campaign against the amnesty to a bid to bring down the government.

Mr Shinawatra’s working-class support has ensured parties led by him, his brother-in-law and now his sister have won a decade of elections. But his opponents attempted to overthrow all of those governments, saying he politicised and bought-off the poor with cheap credit and healthcare and wasteful state subsidies.

Among the key protagonists in Thailand’s dysfunctional democracy are those who revile Mr Shinawatra’s authoritarianism - conservative generals, aristocrats, big businessmen and royal advisers - accusations against whom of graft and disloyalty to the monarchy have mobilised Bangkok’s middle class. Mr Shinawatra refutes those accusations.

The demonstrators have a presence at five locations in Bangkok, three in its historic heart, one in the city's northern fringe and another at the Finance Ministry, which they have occupied since Monday.

The Civil Movement for Democracy, as the anti-government demonstrators call themselves, has garnered support from white collar workers and 45 unions with a combined 200,000 members.

The union of Thai Airways International, 51 per cent owned by the Finance Ministry, yesterday threatened to go on strike and ground the flag carrier's fleet if any demonstrators were harmed.

"If the government uses force ... we will increase the pressure by stopping the plane wheels from turning," said the union's president, Damrong Waikanee.