Thai PM faces crisis debate as rallies paralyse ministries

An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag as riot policemen stand guard outside the Constitutional Court in Bangkok.

BANGKOK - Thailand's premier appealed Tuesday for an end to "mob rule" as she prepared to face a no-confidence debate in parliament after protesters occupied key ministries in a bid to topple her government.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in the biggest street protests since 2010, when more than 90 civilians were killed in a military crackdown.

Fresh turmoil in the politically turbulent country has sparked international concern and raised fears of a new bout of unrest.

"Everybody must obey the law and not use mob rule to upstage the rule of law," Yingluck told reporters as she arrived at parliament early Tuesday, reiterating a vow that authorities would "absolutely not use violence".

Police numbers have been increased in Bangkok in response to the expansion late Monday of the Internal Security Act, which gives authorities additional powers to block routes, impose a curfew, ban gatherings and carry out searches.

"We have told protesters that after the ISA was invoked across Bangkok.

They are violating the law by trespassing in ministries," said National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut.

Dozens of police were in and around the parliament building, with concrete barriers blocking the streets early Tuesday, according to an AFP photographer at the scene, who said few protesters were in the area.

MPs are due to begin debating a no-confidence motion Tuesday, which was put forward by the opposition last week as part of a barrage of legal and institutional challenges to Yingluck's embattled government.

The recent protests were sparked by ruling party plans to introduce an amnesty that could have allowed the return from self-imposed exile of Thaksin, a deeply polarising figure who was deposed by royalist generals in a 2006 coup. Outrage over that plan failed to ebb after the amnesty was quashed by the Senate on November 11.

On Monday, protesters opposing Yingluck's elected government marched on more than a dozen state agencies across the capital, including military and police bases, as well as several television stations.

In a dramatic escalation of their weeks-long action, hundreds of demonstrators then swarmed into finance ministry buildings and later forced their way into the foreign ministry compound.

Protesters were still in and around the government offices Tuesday, with no immediate signs that authorities were moving to evict them.

Television images showing protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban at the finance ministry, apparently relaxed and reading a newspaper surrounded by demonstrators.

Thaksin draws strong support from many of the country's rural and urban working class. But he is loathed by the elite and the middle classes, who accuse him of being corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.