By Ian Williams, Correspondent, NBC News
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Bemused officers looked on as hundreds of demonstrators forced their way into the Thai army's Bangkok compound Friday, the most audacious move in six days of city-wide anti-government protests.
They left soon afterwards, waving Thai flags and blowing the ear-piercing whistles that have become a symbol of this protest.
Arcoss town, another crowd, perhaps 2,000 or 3,000 strong, brought a major thoroughfare to a standstill. These were mainly office workers and shoppers who'd taken a break from a large air-conditioned mall close by.
Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
An anti-government protester blows a whistle next to a riot policeman as she gathers with others outside the headquarters of the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's ruling party in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday.
They demanded the government "Get out!" and opposition leaders claimed the government was acting above the law and should resign. They then marched to the U.S. Embassy.
Anti-government protesters also remained encamped in the grounds of the Finance Ministry, a symbolic attempt to prevent what they claim to be the mis-spending of government money, and had set up a stage in the shadow of the city's Democracy Monument.
"We can't take it, we can't accept them," said Prapon Dolchalermyoothana, a teacher festooned in Thai flags and pictures of the country's revered king.
The immediate spark for these protests was a proposed amnesty law that would have paved the way for a return from exile of a former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup.
His sister Yinluck is currently prime minister, and Thaksin wields considerable influence from abroad.
That bill was thrown out by the Thai Senate, but the protests have escalated.
Wason Wanonchakorn / AP
Embattled Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra begged protesters who have staged the most sustained street rallies in Bangkok in years to call off their demonstrations Thursday and negotiate an end to the crisis.
The protests this week are just the latest installment in eight years of on-off political turmoil here that has broadly pitted the urban middle class and old elite - associated with the color yellow, the king's color, against the poorer mostly rural supporters of Thaksin, who wear the color red.
Previous highlights have included the 2008 occupation and shutdown of Bangkok's main airport by the yellows, and the 2010 shutdown of central Bangkok by the reds (then in opposition). That ended violently, when a military-installed (yellow) government sent in the army, and more than 90 people died.
The interior minister and deputy prime minister at that time was Suthep Thaugsuban, who is now the protest leader. He's been charged with murder for his role in the previous crackdown, a charge he denies.
That bloodshed is one reason why Yinluck is being very cautious, avoiding any confrontation with the protesters in the hope the protests will run out of steam, which they had appeared to be doing.
She also remains popular outside Bangkok. And while she insists she won't dissolve parliament and won't call fresh elections, she would likely get re-elected if she did.
Thaksin's rural support has ensured parties led by him, his brother-in-law and now, his sister, have won a decade of elections. But his opponents attempted to overthrow all those governments, accusing him of corruption and disloyalty to the king, and saying he bought off the poor with cheap credit, health care and wasteful subsidies.
Protest leader Suthep has suggested Thailand's dysfunctional democracy be replaced by a vague system of elite governance by a self-selected group of the good and the great.
To many that sounds rather like what the military tried to impose with miserable results in 2006.
Suthep's critics have accused him of trying to provoke the army and seeking to achieve on the streets what he can't achieve at the ballot box.
Thailand has seen 18 successful or attempts military coups in the last 80 years, which is why Friday's brief entry by the protesters into army headquarters was very symbolic. The army sided with the yellow protesters in 2008, but seems more wary of openly taking sides this time.
They and the police have been extremely restrained, though in a statement Friday the police said: "We have received intelligence reports that there could be violence tonight and tomorrow. We are increasing security around key government and royal buildings."
First published November 29 2013, 8:48 AM