Only a day after weeks of unrest escalated into a surge of protests in Bangkok, demonstrators stormed the Finance Ministry compound in Thailand's capital Monday and over 100,000 marched the city, in a growing movement hoping to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government. The protest — the largest demonstration the country has seen in years — spread across thirteen areas across Bangkok, halting traffic, swarming government buildings, and raising fears of violence.
Over 100 anti-government demonstrators broke into the government's Finance Ministry compound Monday morning, taking over the building and reportedly becoming violent towards local and foreign media. Another group cut off the Budget Bureau's electricity in an attempt to pressure the agency into halting its government funding.
The protests, led by Suthep Thaugsuban — who is a former deputy prime minister and legislator for the opposition party — began as smaller rallies last month, after a controversial political amnesty bill passed the lower houses of Parliament. The bill was widely seen as way to enable former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (Yingluck's brother), who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and charged with corruption, to come back to Thailand from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.
Suthep has declared Thaksin's administration "unlawful," and refused to negotiate or hold talks with government officials. "Make them see this is people's power!" Suthep said."Our protest will not stop until Thaksin's regime is wiped out."
It's estimated that roughly 1 million demonstrators will later march through the capital, starting from the city's Democracy Monument. Already almost 200,000 people have congregated on the streets in support of the anti-government movement. At the same time, another protest being held by government supporters — the "Red Shirts" — took place near the prime minister's office, with over 1,000 protestors outnumbering and clashing with police forces — at one point, a foreign journalist was reportedly beaten up by some of the demonstrators accusing him of biased reporting.
“It's not really important how many anti-government people there are,” the pro-government group's leadertold AFP. “What matters is if they try to do something violent that could change the situation.”
Yingluck has responded to the growing crisis by urging unity and peace, saying in a statement on her Facebook page: "The government has instructed police and all security officers to handle the situation gently, based on international practices, so the demonstration won't be used as a tool by people who want to make changes in a non-democratic way."
Haunting Monday's protests are the specters of the 2010 military crackdown on the Red Shirts — then the opposition to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democrat Party government — which left over 90 people dead. But large-scale demonstrations and government uphauls are not a rare occurrence in Thailand — after Thaksin was removed from his position as prime minister in 2006 by a military coup, the country’s Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party (PPP) in 2008. In total, the country has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.