Protest-hit Thai PM survives no confidence vote

Thailand's embattled prime minister easily survived a parliamentary no confidence vote Thursday as opposition protesters kept up their fight to try to topple her government by besieging major ministries.
The demonstrations are the biggest since mass rallies three years ago which descended into the kingdom's worst civil strife in decades with more than 90 people killed and nearly 1,900 wounded.
Lawmakers in the ruling party-dominated lower house rejected the censure motion 297-134, according to speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont.
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 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.
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, is adored by many of the country's rural and urban working class.
But he is hated by many southerners, middle-class Thais and the Bangkok elite, who see him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.
The protests have triggered growing international concern, with UN leader Ban Ki-moon the latest world leader to voice alarm.
Ban "is concerned by the rising political tensions in Bangkok," said his spokesman Martin Nesirky as protests spread beyond the Thai capital.
"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."
Protesters began marching towards the defence and education ministries on 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.
Protesters also gathered Wednesday at about 25 provincial halls mainly in the opposition's southern heartlands — including on the tourist island of Phuket.
A court has issued an arrest warrant for a top protest leader for his role in the ministry seizures.
Yingluck has ruled out the use of force to end the protests, seeking to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed seen in 2010, which deepened the country's political divide.
One option would be for her 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 the army has so far shown no sign that it is preparing to get involved.
The recent protests were sparked by plans by the ruling Puea Thai party to introduce an amnesty that could have allowed the return from self-imposed exile of Thaksin.
The Senate blocked the controversial bill but demonstrators have since broadened their goal and now want to topple the government.
Yingluck on Monday ordered the expansion across Bangkok of the Internal Security Act, which gives authorities additional powers to block routes, impose a curfew, ban gatherings and carry out searches.
An estimated crowd of up to 180,000 people joined an opposition rally on Sunday, but turnout has since fallen sharply.

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