Thai protesters lay siege to provincial offices and savings bank in Bangkok

BANGKOK - Anti-government protesters in Thailand besieged government offices in a dozen southern provinces on Monday as part of their campaign to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power, officials said.

The move follows weeks of mass rallies in the Bangkok that have sparked several bouts of violence, including grenade attacks and shootings that both sides have blamed on each other.

The government reiterated Monday that it was ready to declare a state of emergency if needed to control the situation.

Demonstrators blocked the entrances to state offices in 12 provinces in the opposition-dominated south to stop civil servants going to work, officials said.

"Protesters locked the gates and asked officials to leave," said Anucha Romayanan, a spokesman for the Centre for Administration of Peace and Order, set up by the government to oversee the handling of the protests.

Protesters also surrounded a government savings bank in Bangkok.

Yingluck is under intense pressure from demonstrators, backed by the royalist establishment, to step down after more than two months of street rallies aimed at ousting her government from office and installing an unelected "people's council".

She has called an election for February but the main opposition party is boycotting the vote. The protesters are seeking to disrupt the polls and have prevented candidates from registering in some southern constituencies.

The demonstrators have staged a self-styled "shutdown" of Bangkok since January 13, erecting roadblocks and rally stages at several key intersections in the city, although the number of protesters has steadily fallen since the middle of last week.

Dozens of people were wounded and one killed in grenade attacks by unknown assailants on opposition rallies on Friday and Sunday that heightened fears of growing unrest ahead of next month's election.

Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Monday that the government might declare a state of emergency to give a bigger role to the army to help deal with the unrest.

"We cannot allow more violence to happen," he said.

The kingdom has been periodically rocked by political bloodshed since former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother, was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.

The latest protests were triggered by a failed amnesty bill that could have allowed Thaksin to return without going to jail for a past corruption conviction.

The demonstrators accuse the billionaire telecoms tycoon-turned-politician of controlling his sister's government from his base in Dubai.

Thaksin has strong electoral support in northern Thailand, but he is reviled by many southerners, Bangkok's middle class and members of the royalist establishment.