Protesters target Thai PM's party, govt seeks to avoid violent confrontation

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Ms Yingluck breezed through a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Thursday, but that failed to pacify protesters who accuse her of abusing her party's majority to push through laws that strengthen the behind-the-scenes power of self-exiled brother and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Though the number of protesters appear to be dwindling since the start of the week, a hard-core remain determined to target symbols of the "Thaksin regime" to weaken a leader they call a puppet, and government they say has lost its mandate to rule. The protest leader, Mr Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime minister in the previous government, rejected Ms Yingluck's televised plea for talks. Ms Yingluck has ruled out resigning or dissolving Parliament.

As the rallies drag on, questions are being raised about what lies ahead in a conflict that broadly pits urban middle classes against the mostly rural supporters of Mr Thaksin, a divisive tycoon ousted in a 2006 military coup and central to Thailand's eight years of on-off turmoil. Before thousands of supporters occupying a state office complex in a Bangkok suburb, Mr Suthep vowed firm action, but was unwilling to say what that would be.

"The end game will happen in the next day or two. All will be revealed tomorrow night," he said late on Thursday. His rhetoric may not rattle a government asserting its legitimacy and intent on riding out the storm. As tensions mount, it has urged police and its supporters to avoid confronting demonstrators it says are running out of steam.

"The government will not instigate a violent situation because that is exactly what Suthep wants," said Mr Udomdet Rattanasatein, a lawmaker from Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai party. "We will not be provoked."

Ms Yingluck had governed for two years without a major challenge until last month, when Puea Thai tried to ram through an amnesty Bill that would have expunged Mr Thaksin's 2008 graft conviction and cleared the way for his political comeback.

The Senate rejected it, Ms Yingluck shelved it, but the protests escalated, switching overnight from anti-amnesty to anti-government.