BANGKOK - About 1,500 anti-government protesters forced their way into the compound of Thailand's army headquarters on Friday, 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 district, about 1,000 gathered outside Yingluck's ruling party headquarters, shouting "Get out, get out". The protesters dispersed hours later from both places.
The invasion of the army headquarters deepens a conflict broadly pitting the urban middle class against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and who remains central to Thailand's eight years of on-off turmoil.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of abusing her party's parliamentary majority to push through laws that strengthen the behind-the-scenes power of her self-exiled, billionaire brother.
They have rejected her repeated calls for dialogue.
Although the army moved its main command centre to a military camp in Bangkok's northern suburbs three days ago, the siege of its grounds by protesters is deeply symbolic and highlights the military's pivotal role in a country that has seen 18 successful or attempted coups in the past 80 years.
After forcing open the compound's wrought-iron front gates, protesters swarmed inside, demanding that Thailand's generals choose sides. About 100 soldiers stood guard. Hundreds watched from the balconies of the 19th-century cream-coloured building.
"We want the head of Thailand's armed forces to choose whether they stand by the government or with the people," Uthai Yodmanee, a protest leader, said from the back of a truck.
Yingluck has publicly courted Thailand's powerful military, which has remained neutral in this bout of protests.
"The army wishes all sides to solve the problem with the country's best interests in mind," said deputy army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree.
Compare that to 2008, when the military sided with protesters who helped to topple two Thaksin-allied governments.