Thai Finance Ministry occupied amid huge anti-government protests

Thai Finance Ministry occupied amid huge anti-government protests
An anti-government protester fights with the police at the barricade near the Government house in Bangkok

BANGKOK - Anti-government protesters forced their way into Thailand's Finance Ministry on Monday, laying out sleeping mats in its rooms and hallways in an escalating bid to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

They also broke into the compound of the Foreign Ministry, a Reuters witness said.

The seizing of government buildings by protesters led by the opposition Democrat Party thrusts Thailand into a new chapter of political volatility three years after it was convulsed by its bloodiest political unrest in a generation.

The protesters say Yingluck is a puppet of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and convicted two years later of graft - charges that he denies. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile but exerts enormous influence over his sister's government.

About 1,000 protesters swarmed into the Finance Ministry's compound, filling up the first floor of the main building and occupying six others. Many gathered in hallways and meeting rooms, blowing whistles and spreading out large plastic mats for sleeping and eating.

Staff left the building and moved to a parking lot.

"I invite protesters to stay here overnight at the Finance Ministry," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told a crowd in front of the ministry.

"Our only objective is to rid the country of the Thaksin regime," said Suthep, a former deputy prime minister under the previous Democrat-led government.

"The Finance Ministry was taken over by the people to prevent the government from transferring money as a tool for Thaksin's regime."

The protests have brought back memories of a tumultuous 2008 when anti-Thaksin "yellow shirt" protesters shut down Bangkok's airports and held crippling rallies against a Thaksin-backed government, which was eventually disbanded by a court.

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