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Focus turns to Thai military, anti-government protesters tell them to pick sides

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Anti-government protesters in Thailand pinned their hopes on winning support from the powerful security forces on Thursday as they push to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and install an unelected administration.

A small group of protesters scaled the walls into the grounds of Yingluck's Government House office on Thursday but soon left without a confrontation with police stationed there.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier accused of murder during widespread 2010 protests, has asked police and military chiefs to meet him by Thursday evening and to choose their side in the latest crisis engulfing Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.

The politically powerful army has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years - including the ousting of Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in 2006. It has said it does not want to get involved this time but may mediate.

The latest crisis in an eight-year, on-and-off political conflict again centers on Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon popular among the rural poor. The protesters view Yingluck as her brother's puppet.

Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile, courted rural voters to win back-to-back elections in 2001 and 2005 and gain an unassailable mandate that he used to advance the interests of major companies, including his own.

He was convicted in absentia of graft in 2008 but he dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

His opponents are Thailand's royalist elite and establishment who feel threatened by his rise. Trade unions and academics see him as a corrupt rights abuser, while the urban middle class resent what they see as their taxes being used as his political war chest.

On Monday, Yingluck was forced to call an early election for February 2 as 160,000 protesters massed around her office at Government House.

The numbers on the street have dwindled considerably since then. A Reuters reporter said most of those who scaled the Government House walls on Thursday left after razor-wire barricades in the compound were moved aside.

Protest leaders said they wanted police to withdraw from Government House. Riot police held their positions after the incursion without confronting the protesters.

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Anti-government protesters climb a gate of prime minister's office, known as Government House for remove barbed wire in Bangkok, Thailand Thursday, Dec. 12.

(AP)

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