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Protesters surround Thai PM offices


Clashes between protesters and police have left at least five dead in Bangkok

Clashes between protesters and police have left at least five dead in Bangkok

Clashes between protesters and police have left at least five dead in Bangkok

Anti-government protesters have surrounded the Thai prime minister's temporary office in Bangkok to demand her resignation a day after clashes with police left at least five people dead.

Yingluck Shinawatra and her cabinet ministers did not go to work at the temporary offices in the city outskirts to avoid creating tension, a security spokesman said.

Protesters have blocked access to buildings in the Government House area in Bangkok city centre where the prime minister's regular office is located.

Nearly 70 others were injured in the clashes yesterday as hundreds of riot police moved in to clear a protest site.

Multiple gunshots were heard near the prime minister's main offices, where police had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage. Witnesses said shots were fired by both sides and police later withdrew.

Ms Yingluck's elected government has been attempting to avoid violence to keep the powerful military from stepping in. Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck's brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Since then, his supporters and opponents have vied for power, sometimes violently.

The violence erupted after police moved into several locations around the city to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Yingluck's resignation. They want the formation of an unelected people's council to implement reforms to end corruption and keep the Shinawatra family out of politics.

They have blocked access to government offices since late last year and occupied key road junctions around Bangkok for about a month. Until now, the police had refrained from dispersing them for fear of unleashing violence.

But on Monday, the government's special security command centre announced it would reclaim five protest sites around the city for public use, a move made possible under a state of emergency declared in January. Thousands of police officers, including armed anti-riot squads, were deployed across the city in an operation the government called Peace for Bangkok.

Since the protests began in November, at least 15 people have been killed and hundreds injured.

In another blow for Yingluck, the state anti-corruption agency accused her of improperly handling an expensive rice subsidy scheme, putting her in jeopardy of being impeached.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck's government proceeded with the scheme despite advice from experts that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption. The government has been months late in making payments to farmers for the rice they pledged to sell at above-market prices.

The commission said Yingluck has been called to formally hear the charges on February 27. If it decides to submit the case to the senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck will immediately be suspended from performing her official duties pending a senate trial.

The demonstrators asked officials at the defence ministry complex to prevent Yingluck from using it as her back-up office. She has been unable to enter her regular office compound in the city centre because it has been blocked by protesters and some of its gates have been cemented shut.

The demonstrators also vowed to target businesses owned by Yingluck's wealthy family.

"Wherever she is, wherever she sleeps, we will go after her," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told the crowd. "(We) must intensify our fight and we will attack Shinawatra businesses and their funding sources."

In a further development, a Thai court ordered the government not to use force to crack down on the protesters.

The Civil Court ruled that the prime minister and a special security command centre cannot issue any orders under an emergency decree that would violate the protesters' rights.

The cabinet declared a state of emergency in the Bangkok area on January 21 after the protesters threatened to shut down the capital by blocking key intersections and occupying government offices.

The court cited another court's earlier ruling that said the protests were peaceful.

It was unclear whether Wednesday's ruling would affect arrest warrants issued for protest leaders for violating the state of emergency.