A power grab or a civil movement?

A power grab or a civil movement?
Anti-government protesters outside the national police headquarters in Bangkok on Thursday. Many fear the movement is dragging the kingdom back to the bad old days of perpetual political unrest.

For hours, the growing crowd of anti-government protesters outside Thailand's Department of Special Investigation office on Wednesday were careful not stray beyond the temporary barricades erected around the compound.

"Don't do it," they told each other. "It's against the law".

The restraint, however, vanished the minute protest leaders arrived atop trucks armed with blaring speakers.

At their bidding, the crowd surged beyond the barriers and swarmed the compound, ultimately taking over one building in the government complex.

There are two sides to Thailand's latest anti-government protest movement, which many fear is dragging the kingdom back to the bad old days of perpetual political unrest.

On one hand, the so-called Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD) is selling itself as a peaceful, people-led movement trying to paralyse a government with nothing more than whistles, Thai flags and the floor mats that they sleep on in the occupied ministries.

On the other hand, it has cut off the electricity supply of government offices it cannot enter in hopes of shutting them down, as occurred on Thursday at the national police headquarters.

Its leaders include nine former lawmakers from the Democrat Party - including former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaungsuban - all of whom quit Parliament in mid-November to focus on the protests. Their activities are reported scrupulously by the pro-Democrats' Blue Sky satellite and online TV channel, while many of the protesters on the streets now hail from southern Thailand, a Democrat stronghold.

Critics say this is yet another attempt by the country's old elites to grab power from Thaksin Shinawatra's formidable network. Although the self-exiled former prime minister was ousted in a 2006 coup, he still wields considerable loyalty among the rural masses, who make up a large part of the electorate.

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