BANGKOK Jan 16 Protesters in Thailand trying to
paralyse ministries to force the government to resign said they
would target revenue offices on Thursday, but their numbers
appeared to be dwindling and ministers say the movement could be
running out of steam.
A state anti-corruption panel is due to give a ruling on
Thursday on irregularities in a rice-buying scheme, that the
government introduced to support farmers, that could give
ammunition to opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The unrest, which flared in November and escalated this week
when demonstrators led by former opposition politician Suthep
Thaugsuban occupied main intersections of the capital, Bangkok,
is the latest chapter in an eight-year conflict.
The political fault line pits the Bangkok-based middle class
and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural
supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a
former premier ousted by the army in 2006 who is seen as the
power behind her government.
Many ministries and state agencies have been closed to avoid
confrontation with demonstrators, but the government says
operations and services are being maintained by civil servants
working at home or from back-up offices.
In a speech at the blockaded Asoke intersection late on
Wednesday, Suthep told protesters to target revenue offices,
which come under the Finance Ministry, on Thursday.
"Protesters from every area must find out where the nearest
revenue office is and close it," he said.
Some hardline activists threatened to blockade the stock
exchange and an air traffic control facility on Wednesday if
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had not stepped down by 8
p.m. (1300 GMT) but they made no move to do that.
The number of people camping out overnight at some of the
seven big intersections targeted by Suthep's group appears to
have dropped and attempts to block traffic along other roads
have become half-hearted.
Yingluck dissolved parliament in December in an attempt to
end the protests and set an election for Feb. 2.
On Wednesday she invited protest leaders and political
parties to discuss a proposal to push back the election date,
but her opponents snubbed her invitation.
After the meeting, the government said the poll would go
ahead as scheduled and officials said the protests were losing
"We believe the election will bring the situation back to
normal," Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana told
reporters after the meeting. "We can see that the support for Mr
Suthep is declining. When he is doing something against the law,
most people do not support that."
Thaksin's rural and working-class support has ensured he or
his allies have won every election since 2001 and Yingluck's
Puea Thai Party seems certain to win any vote held under present
The protesters want to suspend what they say is a democracy
commandeered by the self-exiled billionaire Thaksin. They say
Thaksin is corrupt and buys election victories and they want to
eradicate the political influence of his family by altering
On Thursday, a sub-committee of the National Anti-Corruption
Commission is due to deliver an opinion on the government's rice
intervention scheme, a money-guzzling subsidy programme that has
been a lightning rod for government critics.
If corruption is alleged and the panel recommends legal
action, there would be implications for Yingluck, who nominally
heads the National Rice Committee, although it could take many
months for a case to reach court.
In its manifesto for the 2011 election, her Puea Thai Party
promised farmers a price for their grain that was way above the
market. That made their rice so expensive Thailand lost its
position as the world's top rice exporter to India.
Critics say corruption is rife in the scheme and that it has
cost the taxpayer as much as 425 billion baht ($12.9 billion),
although that figure would drop if the government managed to
find buyers for the rice in bulging state stockpiles.