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Thai protesters besiege government headquarters

Thai opposition demonstrators besieged the seat of government on Monday in defiance of authorities who have vowed to reclaim the zone this week so Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra can return to work at her headquarters.

BANGKOK: Thai opposition demonstrators besieged government offices on Monday, including a compound that has been used as a temporary headquarters by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in defiance of authorities who have vowed to reclaim key state buildings.

Angry rice farmers surrounded a defence ministry compound in a Bangkok suburb where Yingluck has held meetings over the last few weeks.

Hundreds of farmers breached the perimeter to the complex, but it was not immediately clear if the premier was inside in the building, which was guarded by security forces.

The farmers, who have not been paid for crops pledged into a controversial state subsidy scheme, vowed to stay until they could speak with Yingluck, but said they would not raid the compound.

"We will spend the night here. We will stay until we can talk to the prime minister. But we will not raid the building," farmer's leader Rawee Rungroeng told AFP.

Also on Monday, thousands of demonstrators -- among them a hardcore group known as the Student and People Network to Reform Thailand -- rallied near Government House.

Some poured buckets of cement onto a sandbag wall in front of a gate to Government House, an AFP photographer said, while others manned tyre barricades nearby.

The government is attempting to seize back several official buildings after more than three months of mass rallies seeking to topple Yingluck's administration and curb the political domination of her family.

The prime minister has been unable to use the Government's headquarters in Bangkok's historic heart for about two months, and has instead held meetings in various locations across the capital.

Protesters have taunted her for overseeing a mobile government, which they are hoping to upend -- despite a recent general election -- through a combination of street action and pressure through Thailand's notoriously interventionist courts.

On Friday, authorities embarked on an apparent shift in tactics after months during which the demonstrators have often appeared to be more in control of the city than the officials.

Riot police swept through barricades around Government House meeting only token resistance but hours later, the protesters returned and rebuilt their barricades unopposed.

Speaking on Monday as demonstrators massed around the building and reinforced roadblocks, the protest's firebrand leader vowed to thwart efforts to re-establish the area as the seat of government.

"Yingluck will never have a chance to work at the Government House again," Suthep Thaugsuban said from a stage, before helping to mix cement to build a makeshift wall in front of the building.

The demonstrators want Yingluck to step down in favour of an unelected "People's Council" to carry out reforms to tackle graft and alleged vote-buying before new elections are held.

As they try to clear the protests, authorities say they are determined to avoid confrontation with the demonstrators, whose numbers on the street have dwindled from highs of at least tens of thousands following widely disrupted February 2 elections.

"We will talk and negotiate, according to the law," Anucha Romyanan, a spokesman for the agency responsible for overseeing a state of emergency imposed in the capital, told AFP.

A wave of grenade attacks and shootings in the capital linked to the protests has left 11 people dead and hundreds injured, raising fears over political violence.

Yingluck's government held a general election on February 2 in an attempt to defuse tensions, but the opposition boycotted the vote.

Demonstrators also prevented 10,000 polling stations from opening, affecting several million people.

Opponents say Yingluck is in fact a stooge for her hugely-divisive brother Thaksin, who fled overseas in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction and now lives in Dubai.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election for more than a decade, propelled to power by strong support from the kingdom's rural north and northeast.

That erstwhile loyal base has also been affected by the government's struggle to pay for rice pledged into the troubled subsidy scheme -- a flagship policy of Yingluck's government.

Critics say the populist scheme is riddled with graft and has cost Thailand billions of dollars as well as its place as the world's leading exporter of the grain.

An estimated one million farmers are still owed money, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute, which says the government may need to find around $3.6 billion to catch up with payments.

The kingdom's anti-graft body is probing accusations that Yingluck was negligent in her role as nominal head of the scheme.

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