Thai protests widen beyond Bangkok; central bank cuts rates

Thai protests widen beyond Bangkok; central bank cuts rates
Thai opposition protesters wave national flags as they march towards a government complex in a demonstration in Bangkok.

BANGKOK - Thailand's mass political protests spread outside the capital Wednesday as opposition demonstrators stepped up their attempts to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government, plunging the country deeper into crisis.

Demonstrators have paralysed government ministries in Bangkok to challenge Yingluck and her exiled brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in the biggest street protests since mass rallies in 2010 that turned deadly.

Stepping up their action Wednesday, protesters entered a major government complex in the northern outskirts of the capital and also forced the evacuation of the Justice Department's besieged Department of Special Investigations.

Outside Bangkok, protesters gathered at about 25 provincial halls mainly in the opposition's southern heartlands -- including on the tourist island of Phuket.

"We will not give up even if the prime minister resigns or dissolves parliament. We will stop only when power is in the hands of the people," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters.

Warning that the political turmoil could affect economic confidence, the central bank unexpectedly cut its key interest rate by 25 basis points, to 2.25 per cent.

While the demos have so far been largely peaceful, there are fears they could degenerate into another bout of street violence in a country that has seen several episodes of political unrest since Thaksin was toppled in a 2006 coup.

The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician is adored by many of the country's rural and urban working class. But he is reviled by many in the elite and the middle classes, who accuse him of being corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.

Suthep on Tuesday called for the creation of an unelected administration to run the country, in the clearest indication yet that the demonstrators are seeking to suspend the democratic system.

"If we demolish the Thaksin regime ... we will set up a people's council which will come from people from every sector," he said. "Then we will let the people's council pick good people to be the prime minister and ministers."

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