BANGKOK - Thousands of Thai demonstrators marched on Wednesday towards a government office complex they planned to shut down as part of efforts to cripple the government and oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Having forced the closure of five ministries in the past two days, about 4,000 protesters rallying against Yingluck and her influential brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, aimed to surround the complex in northern Bangkok while smaller groups readied to target six other ministries.
The demonstrations are familiar in Thailand, which has seen eight years of on-off turmoil, from crippling street protests to controversial judicial rulings and military intervention, each time with Thaksin at the centre of the disputes.
The demonstrations have been going on for weeks but are gaining momentum. In response to a rousing speech by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban screened on cable television late on Tuesday, demonstrators in 10 southern provinces massed in front of government offices, according to police.
Despite fleeing into exile to dodge a jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008, billionaire former telecommunications mogul Thaksin has loomed large over Thai politics.
He won the support of the rural poor who voted him twice into office, in 2001 and 2005, before he was ousted in a 2006 military coup. His supporters remain fiercely loyal to him and the parties he backs.
His opponents are fewer in number but hold considerable power and influence, among them wealthy conservatives, top generals, bureaucrats and royalists with sway over the urban middle class.
Many of them see Thaksin as a corrupt, crony capitalist who manipulates the masses with populist handouts and is a threat to the monarchy, which he denies.
"Today we march again. I will lead you myself. Those who are ready, line up," Suthep, leader of the Civil Movement for Democracy, as the largest protest group is known, told thousands of protesters who had camped overnight at the Finance Ministry in Bangkok.
Suthep led his group towards an office centre containing important government agencies, including tax, revenue, immigration and land departments. It also houses the Supreme Court and headquarters of Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, its equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.