Arrest warrant out for Thai protest leader

Arrest warrant out for Thai protest leader

BANGKOK - The Thai authorities have issued an arrest warrant for an opposition politician and key protest leader, as thousands surrounded four ministries in Bangkok to paralyse government functions and oust the Puea Thai party-led administration.

The situation was expected to escalate on Wednesday after key protest leader and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban called on protesters to seize government offices and city halls across the country on Wednesday, according to The Nation newspaper.

Blowing whistles, waving Thai flags and sporting royalist bandanas, they surrounded the Tourism, Transport, Agriculture and Interior ministries on Tuesday, ordering civil servants to leave, then blocking access to their compounds.

The mass marches came after they occupied Thailand's Foreign and Finance ministries on Monday, prompting the government to impose emergency security measures and raising the spectre of prolonged and at times deadly political unrest which haunted the country for years before Puea Thai's electoral victory in 2011.

Protesters have left the Foreign Ministry.

The arrest warrant issued on Tuesday for Mr Suthep was for his role in leading Monday's raid on the Finance Ministry.

The Democrat politician resigned as a Member of Parliament two weeks ago to focus on this campaign to rid Thailand of the "regime" of Thaksin Shinawatra, the self-exiled brother of current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Ousted in a 2006 military coup and living in Dubai to evade a jail term for corruption, he is deemed to have wide control of the government via Puea Thai.

On Tuesday, Ms Yingluck was grilled in a censure debate on her government's inability to tackle corruption and her ability to run the country. But she is expected to survive the no-confidence vote after  Wednesday's debate, given Puea Thai's Parliament majority.

The month-long protests were first triggered by anger over a Puea Thai-sponsored Bill that would grant Thaksin amnesty, but became a coordinated campaign to overthrow the government. A Sunday rally drew over 100,000 people, not seen in recent years.

While protests have mostly been peaceful, the rhetoric has become increasingly extreme. A banner at the Interior Ministry on Tuesday showed decapitated heads of Thaksin, Ms Yingluck and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, known to have ties with Thaksin.

Mr Suthep's seizure of government offices has unsettled some within his party.

According to The Nation, Deputy Democrat leader Korn Chatikavanij said on Tuesday he disagreed with the move to occupy the Finance Ministry. Along with Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Mr Suthep already faces murder charges for his role in overseeing a deadly military crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2010, when the Democrats were in power.

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