Thailand’s prime minister has invoked an emergency law after demonstrators seeking to remove her from office occupied parts of the finance and foreign ministries.
Yingluck Shinawatra announced on Monday that the Internal Security Act would cover all of Bangkok and 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 authorises officials to seal off roads, take action against security threats, impose curfews and ban the use of electronic devices in designated areas. Peaceful rallies are allowed under the law.
Protesters swarmed into the two government ministries earlier on 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 and former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled 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 that started last month. They highlighted the movement’s new strategy of paralysing the government by forcing civil servants to stop working.
The opposition Democrat Party, which has lost to Thaksin-backed parties in every election since 2001, also plans to challenge the government on 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 free expression, but also had the responsibility to safeguard the country’s peace 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.
A constitutional court also blocked Yingluck’s plans this week to create a fully-elected Senate, which would have enabled her to consolidate power in both of Thailand’s houses of parliament.
“This is a demonstration that is taking on historic proportions,” Al Jazeera’s Veronica Pedrosa reported from the protests in Bangkok.
“The people who have turned up are united in their push to kick the prime minister and the influence of her brother out of leadership, out of power. They want to dismantle those networks.”
The political protests are the most significant in Thailand since the bloody rallies in 2010.
Thaksin, who won elections in 2001 and 2005 by landslides, remains a populist hero among the poor, whose votes helped Yingluck and her party sweep polls in 2011. But corruption scandals steadily eroded his popularity among Bangkok’s middle class.