Thai rallies surround telco firms after vowing final push

Thai rallies surround telco firms after vowing final push
Anti-government protestors occupy the premises of the Telephone Organisation of Thailand (TOT) compound in Bangkok on November 30, 2013. Thai opposition protesters marched on key state communications targets after vowing a final push to topple the government, as the capital braces for mass rival rallies.

BANGKOK - Thai opposition protesters marched on key communications firms Saturday after vowing a final push in their demonstrations aimed at paralysing the government as they look to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Defiant demonstrators have besieged key government buildings in Bangkok in the biggest street protests since mass rallies in 2010 degenerated into the kingdom's worst civil strife in decades.

The protesters - a mix of royalists, southerners and the urban middle class sometimes numbering in their tens of thousands - are united by their loathing of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in the month-long rallies.

Demonstrators have declared Sunday a "day of victory", with plans to gather near the heavily-guarded Government House, besiege more important buildings - even Bangkok's zoo.

Protesters are demanding the end of the "Thaksin regime" and want an unelected "people's council" to replace the government, in a country that has suffered years of political turmoil.

Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile, but he is widely believed to be the real power behind the embattled government of his younger sister Yingluck.

Pro-Thaksin Red Shirts, who have gathered in a stadium in Bangkok for a week, also began stepping up their demonstrations Saturday, with tens of thousands expected at the site, vowing to protect the government.

"I want to ask protesters not to confront each other in a way that may lead to violence," Yingluck told reporters at a briefing at police headquarters on Saturday.

With free food and a carnival atmosphere, opposition demonstrators have massed at several locations around the capital, occupying the finance ministry since Monday.

Their numbers have fallen sharply since an estimated crowd of up to 180,000 people joined an opposition rally on Sunday.

But turnout is expected to spike over the weekend as organisers seek a final push ahead of celebrations for revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday on December 5, which is traditionally marked in an atmosphere of calm and respect.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters occupied parts of Telephone Organisation of Thailand (TOT) offices near their base at a key government complex in the outskirts of Bangkok Saturday, holding a cheerful picnic in the grounds.

They also briefly gathered around Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), another key state telecoms firm.

"My fight strategy is to march empty handed. I feel tomorrow we will win," protester Sanit Ounjai, a 45-year-old rubber farmer from southern Thailand, told AFP.

An AFP photographer at the Red Shirt protest said large crowds had gathered at the stadium, with dozens of riot police at the site, but there was little sign of tension.

Thaksin is adored by many of the country's rural and urban working class but hated by many southerners, middle-class Thais and the Bangkok elite, who see him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.

He remains a hugely divisive figure seven years after he was deposed by royalist generals. Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election for more than a decade but Yingluck has given no indication that she is thinking of calling fresh polls as a way out of the crisis.

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