Thai opposition protesters rejected government talks to defuse their rallies Thursday after the prime minister called for an end to the demonstrations as she survived a no confidence vote in parliament.
The nearly one-month-long demonstrations are the biggest since mass protests three years ago which degenerated into the kingdom’s worst civil strife in decades with more than 90 people killed and nearly 1,900 wounded.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra received a much-needed boost as lawmakers in the ruling party-dominated lower house overwhelmingly rejected the censure motion against her 297-134.
The motion was filed by the opposition Democrat Party, which alleges widespread corruption in government and accuses Yingluck of acting as a puppet for her brother, the ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Yingluck — who denies the accusations — delivered a televised national address following the confidence vote, urging demonstrators to end their rallies.
“I propose to protesters to stop protesting and leave government offices so the civil service can move forward,” she said.
“The government does not want confrontation and is ready to cooperate with everybody to find a solution,” she added.
But just hours later the demonstrators cut off the electricity to the national police headquarters in Bangkok, a senior officer said, adding that the building was running on generator power.
The move also hit the forensic department of a hospital next door although the main facility was unaffected, the hospital director said.
So far authorities have avoided confrontation with the demonstrators and Yingluck has ruled out the use of force to end the protests.
In a speech late Thursday, rally leader Suthep Thaugsuban said he would not “talk or negotiate” with the government and set a fresh deadline for the demos to reach their climax.
“Yingluck said the government can still govern, can still work — I want to say that they will only be able to work for a few more days, then we will not let them work anymore,” he told several thousand supporters in Bangkok.
The former opposition MP said he would outline a new rally plan on Friday evening.
“We might take action immediately. Prepare running shoes, brave hearts, backpacks, towels and packed-food,” he said.
Protesters are demanding the end of the “Thaksin regime” and want to replace the government with an unelected “people’s council” — a demand Yingluck said was impossible under the constitution.
Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, remains a hugely divisive figure seven years after he was deposed by royalist generals.
He is adored by many of the country’s rural and urban working class but hated by many southerners, middle-class Thais and the Bangkok elite, who see him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.
Calls for restraint from both sides
The protests have triggered growing international concern, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon the latest world leader to voice alarm.
“The secretary-general calls on all sides to exercise the utmost restraint, refrain from the use of violence and to show full respect for the rule of law and human rights,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.
Protesters marched to the defence ministry Thursday, a day after entering a major government complex in the north of the capital and forcing the evacuation of the Department of Special Investigations — Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI.
A court has issued an arrest warrant for Suthep for his role in the ministry seizures.
One option to deflate the protests would be for Yingluck to dissolve the lower house and call fresh elections, knowing that pro-Thaksin parties have won every election for more than a decade.
The possibility of military intervention also constantly looms over Thailand, which has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932. But so far the army has shown little enthusiasm for getting involved.
The recent protests were sparked by plans by the ruling Puea Thai party to introduce an amnesty that could have allowed Thaksin’s return from self-imposed exile.
The Senate blocked the controversial bill but demonstrators have since broadened their goal to toppling the government.
Yingluck on Monday ordered special security measures to be expanded to cover all of the capital.
An estimated crowd of up to 180,000 people joined an opposition rally on Sunday, but turnout has since fallen sharply.