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December 1, 2013

Police fire tear gas at protesters in Bangkok

(Continued)

BANGKOK —

During the past week, the protesters had seized the Finance Ministry, turned off power at police headquarters, camped at a sprawling government office complex and briefly broken into the army headquarters compound to urge the military to support them.

Authorities have exercised extreme restraint over the past week as the protesters besieged and occupied parts of various government ministries and offices.

Police called for calm in a televised statement, saying they were helping to escort both sides out of the area safely. Organizers of the pro-government “Red Shirt” rally at the stadium called off the event for safety reasons and sent people home Sunday, after many spent the night camped inside.

On Saturday, government opponents had gathered outside the stadium and jeered Red Shirt government supporters. Two men wearing red shirts were grabbed, one from the back of a motorbike, and beaten. Two buses were attacked, their windows smashed as passengers cowered inside. One protester used an iron rod with a Thai flag wrapped around it to smash the driver’s side window of one bus.

The protests started after an ill-advised bid by Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party to push an amnesty law through Parliament that would have allowed Thaksin’s return from exile. The bill failed to pass after the upper house of parliament voted against it.

Because Yingluck’s party has overwhelming electoral support from the country’s rural majority, which benefited from Thaksin’s populist programs, the protesters want to change the country’s political system to a less democratic one where the educated and well-connected would have a greater say than directly elected lawmakers.

Thaksin lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.

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