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Thai Protesters Call for Nationwide Occupation of Government Buildings

The leader of Thailand's anti-government protests is calling on supporters to take over more government buildings across the country Wednesday in an escalation of efforts to oust the prime minister.

Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, told supporters late Tuesday that they should march on government buildings to keep them from being used by the current government.

He made the announcement after police issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with the occupation of government buildings in Bangkok. However, authorities have not yet taken any action to detain him.

Opposition-led protesters expanded their bid to occupy or shut down key state buildings in Bangkok Tuesday, with rallies targeting four more government ministries.

Several thousand people surrounded the Interior Ministry and vowed to spend the night. Protesters had already seized parts of the Finance and Foreign Ministries a day earlier and have camped outside several other state buildings.

They are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They say her government is controlled by her brother, the ousted and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protests are being led by the opposition Democrat Party, which has launched a no-confidence debate in parliament. Mrs. Yingluck, whose Pheu Thai party dominates parliament, told lawmakers Tuesday she will not step down.

"The accusations are strong and unjust for me, the leader of this government for two years.''

The street protests are the largest in Thailand since 2010, when more than 90 people were killed in a military crackdown on an opposition protest. Prime Minister Yingluck has insisted the military will not use violence to clear the protests.

On Monday, the government expanded an emergency security law, giving police wide authority to deal with the protests. There has so far been no attempt to clear the protesters from the state buildings.

But in a sign of the rising tension, police said they found an unexploded grenade outside a Democrat Party office in Bangkok.

Police have issued an arrest warrant, approved by a Thai court Tuesday, for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.

The mass protests were triggered several weeks ago by an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin Shinawatra to return home and avoid a two-year jail term for corruption.

That amnesty bill was rejected by the Senate, but opposition-led protests have continued. Meanwhile, pro-government protesters held their own rally at a Bangkok stadium and vowed not to leave until the opposition calls off its demonstration.

The protests have prompted statements from several foreign governments, including the United States. The State Department said Monday it is "concerned about the rising political tension in Thailand."

It urged "all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law" and said "violence and the seizure of public or private property are not acceptable means of resolving political differences."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra came to power in 2011. Her brother, Thaksin, was toppled by street protests in 2006 and convicted of corruption. He has lived in exile to escape the charges, which he says were politically motivated.

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