BANGKOK, Thailand -- In the biggest anti-government street protest in years, tens of thousands of people crippled Bangkok on Monday (Nov. 25), storming and occupying the Finance Ministry and swarming around military, police and other buildings, demanding the elected prime minister resign.

"I invite protesters to stay here overnight at the Finance Ministry," tough-talking protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters at the multi-story building.

"I urge other protesters to do the same and seize other government buildings and offices around the country," Mr. Suthep said.

"I have no intention to resign or dissolve the House," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters in response.

"The cabinet can still function, even though we are facing some difficulties. All sides have shown their political aims, now they must turn to face each other and talk, in order to find a peaceful way out for the country."

Police said the protesters occupying the Finance Ministry's Budget Bureau and Auditor General's Office would face prosecution.

The mob told officials in both buildings to get out, officials said. Electric power was then cut off, but it was unclear who pulled the plug.

Some protesters said they would occupy the buildings throughout Monday night and the next day as part of their massive street protests to force Mrs. Yingluck to resign.

Meanwhile, a rival rally by tens of thousands of pro-government supporters gathered in a sports stadium, vowing to pour into the streets if Mrs. Yingluck is toppled by the protesters or a coup.

Mrs. Yingluck was elected to head the ruling coalition in July 2011 because she was a younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a bloodless 2006 military coup despite winning three elections.

"Tomorrow we will seize all ministries to show to the Thaksin system that they have no legitimacy to run the country," announced protest leader Suthep, the frustrated opposition's former deputy prime minister and minister for security affairs.

The anti-Thaksin protesters fear Mrs. Yingluck is orchestrating Mr. Thaksin's return from self-exile abroad by trying to arrange an "amnesty" to lift his two-year jail sentence.

That punishment was imposed by a post-coup court for Mr. Thaksin's alleged conflict of interest on a Bangkok real estate deal involving his then-wife.

Mr. Thaksin also wants about two billion U.S. dollars of his cash and assets returned, which another post-coup court seized because he had profited from a tax-free telecommunications deal.

Unfortunately for the street protesters, their leaders have been unable to win any popular elections to form a government, so they are now massing to force Mrs. Yingluck's coalition to implode.

The protestors also oppose Mrs. Yingluck's attempts to allow the Senate to be fully elected, as is the House of Representatives in the bicameral Parliament.

After the coup, Thailand's constitution was trashed and a new charter was drawn up which allowed about 50 percent of Senate to be appointed.

Mrs. Yingluck's supporters say the protest movement's attempt to overthrow the government by allegedly manipulating appointed officials -- including senators, the military, judges and others -- proves that it opposes democracy.

Backed by her brother, Mrs. Yingluck insists she will not be threatened by the protests which topped 100,000 people in Bangkok on Sunday (Nov. 24).

Mr. Thaksin however is tarred by acts of repression committed during his 2001-2006 administration, when he oversaw a vicious "war on drugs" which allegedly resulted in the extrajudicial killing of about 2,500 people without trial.

Also during Mr. Thaksin's government, the military killed more than 70 minority Muslim men in the south by tying them up and laying them horizontal on top of each other in an army truck, resulting in their suffocation.

Under Mr. Thaksin, the military also attacked Krue Se mosque in the south, killing scores of people who were inside amid fears that they were insurgents involved in an Islamist guerrilla war which has raged since 2004, resulting in more than 4,500 people killed on all sides.

The current protests are led by Mr. Suthep and Abhisit Vejjajiva who became prime minister in 2008 but lost the 2011 election to Mrs. Yingluck.

Both men are now being investigated for alleged murder committed during their administration when they presided over the military's crackdown in 2010 against a nine-week, pro-Thaksin street insurrection, resulting in more than 90 deaths -- most of them pro-Thaksin civilians.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)