BANGKOK — Thailand’s prime minister invoked an emergency law Monday after demonstrators seeking to remove her from office occupied parts of the finance and foreign ministries.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced that the Internal Security Act would cover all of Bangkok and large parts of surrounding areas. Three especially sensitive districts of the capital have been under the law since August, when there were early signs of political unrest.
The law authorizes officials to seal off roads, take action against security threats, impose curfews and ban the use of electronic devices in designated areas. The law allows peaceful rallies.
Protesters swarmed into the two government ministries earlier Monday, overrunning several buildings and cutting electricity in an escalating campaign to topple Yingluck’s government.
Protesters say they want Yingluck to step down amid claims that her government is controlled by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 for alleged corruption. On Sunday, more than 150,000 demonstrators took to Bangkok’s streets in the largest rally Thailand has seen in years, uniting against what they call the “Thaksin regime.”
The incursions into the finance and foreign ministries were the boldest acts yet in opposition-led protests, which started in October. They highlighted the movement’s new strategy of paralyzing the government by forcing civil servants to stop working.
The opposition Democrat Party, which is spearheading the protests and has lost to Thaksin-backed parties in every election since 2001, also plans to challenge the government Tuesday with a parliamentary no-confidence debate.“The protesters have escalated their rally, which previously was a peaceful one,” Yingluck said in a televised address. She said the government respected the people’s right to freely express opinions but also had the responsibility to safeguard the country’s peace and stability and assets, along with the safety of citizens and their right to access government offices.
The law will cover the city’s international airports. In 2008, anti-Thaksin demonstrators occupied Bangkok’s two airports for a week after taking over the prime minister’s office for three months.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban led the crowd at the Finance Ministry on a day when protesters fanned out to 13 locations across Bangkok, snarling traffic and raising concerns of violence in the country’s ongoing political crisis, which has revolved around Thaksin for years.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged all sides to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue.
“Violence and the seizure of public or private property are not acceptable means of resolving political differences,” she said in a statement.