Thai protesters move on more ministries; central bank cuts rates

Thai protesters move on more ministries; central bank cuts rates

BANGKOK - Thousands of Thai demonstrators massed outside four ministries, a major government office complex and 19 provincial halls on Wednesday in an effort to cripple the administration and oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The Department of Special Investigation, the country's equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, was evacuated as about 2,000 protesters rallying against Yingluck and her influential brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, surrounded a state-agency centre in a Bangkok suburb.

Thailand's central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates by 25 basis points, a move that extended the baht's loss by 0.3 per cent to 32.08 against the dollar. Trade data showed the economy remained weak, with exports falling 0.7 per cent in October from a year earlier, against expectation.

The bank slashed 2013 economic growth forecast to 3 per cent and said political tension was affecting investor confidence, as shown by foreign selling of Thai stocks and bonds.

The demonstrations have been going on for weeks but are expanding and gaining momentum. Five ministries in the capital were evacuated in the past two days and protesters are occupying the Finance Ministry.

On Wednesday, groups of demonstrators gathered in front of the ministries of labour, energy, health and commerce in Bangkok, and according to a senior Interior Ministry official, local government offices in 19 provinces.

The protests are all-too familiar in Thailand, which has seen eight years of on-off turmoil, from crippling street rallies to controversial judicial rulings and army intervention, each time with Thaksin at the centre of the tumult.

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 coup. His supporters remain fiercely loyal to him and swept Yingluck to power in an election landslide in 2011.

The anti-government protesters, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime minister in the previous government, chanted abuse at the DSI as scores of riot police scrambled to put on helmets and hold up shields as crowds pushed against a low fence. The DSI shares the compound with important government agencies, including tax, revenue, immigration and land departments.

Some employees were seen leaving their offices and joining the demonstrations.

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