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Thai anti-government protesters gather outside defense compound

By Kocha Olarn. Saima Mohsin and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 6:56 PM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Demonstrators assemble outside the Prime Minister's temporary office
  • NEW: Thousands of them arrive on foot, on bikes and in pick-up trucks
  • Clashes between demonstrators and police left five people dead on Tuesday
  • The protesters have been campaigning against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Editor's note: iReport: Are you there? Share your photos and videos, but please stay safe.

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Thai anti-government demonstrators massed Wednesday outside the Prime Minister's makeshift office, a day after clashes with police in the streets of Bangkok killed five people.

The protesters have been rallying in the city for months, demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down.

Their long-running campaign has deepened political divisions in Thailand, undermined the functioning of the national government and stirred outbreaks of deadly violence.

The demonstrators want to rid the country of the influence of Yingluck and her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they say controls the government from self-imposed exile. They are calling for the creation of an unelected "people's council" to oversee electoral and political changes.

10 questions: What's behind the protests in Thailand?

Hospital workers evacuate an injured villager after an attack near an anti-government rally in Khao Saming in Thailand's Trat province on Sunday, February 23. A 5-year-old girl was killed and more than 30 others wounded when attackers sprayed bullets on an anti-government rally in eastern Thailand, police said. Hospital workers evacuate an injured villager after an attack near an anti-government rally in Khao Saming in Thailand's Trat province on Sunday, February 23. A 5-year-old girl was killed and more than 30 others wounded when attackers sprayed bullets on an anti-government rally in eastern Thailand, police said.
Political turmoil in Thailand
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Photos: Political turmoil in Thailand Photos: Political turmoil in Thailand
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Life in Bangkok amidst political chaos
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Deadly clashes

With Thailand still scarred by a severe bout of civil unrest in 2010 -- in which a crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters by security forces left scores of people dead -- police had until recently largely refrained from using force on the current demonstrations.

But last week, police began attempts to clear sites occupied by protesters for months. Government officials said the protesters' actions were blocking public access to government services.

The police measures encountered strong resistance from protesters in central Bangkok on Tuesday, and clashes between the two sides erupted into gun fire. Five people, including a police officer, died in the violence, and more than 70 were wounded.

Police have suspended efforts to seize the protest sites for the time being, said Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathabut, the national security chief.

Protesters gather

The anti-government protesters, meanwhile, are trying to keep up the pressure on Yingluck by gathering Wednesday outside Defense Secretariat offices in the suburbs of Bangkok where the Prime Minister has set up a temporary office.

She has had to relocate there after the demonstrators blocked access to Government House, the office of the Prime Minister and appointed cabinet ministers in central Bangkok.

Thousands of demonstrators assembled near the Defense Secretariat compound, arriving by foot, on bikes and in pick-up trucks. Some of them waved flags and others blew whistles, a trademark of their movement.

About 1,000 police officers in riot gear were positioned outside the compound.

It wasn't immediately unclear whether Yingluck was inside the offices Wednesday. She gave a televised speech from there on Tuesday.

Political uncertainty

The Prime Minister is also facing difficulties over her government's controversial rice subsidy program. Thailand's anti-corruption commission said Tuesday it was bringing charges against Yingluck over allegations she failed to act on warnings of corruption in the program, which paid farmers well above the market rate for their rice but has run into financial problems.

Yingluck said Tuesday that the program had been successful and that there was "no conspiracy to corrupt."

The current protests in Bangkok were sparked in November by Yingluck's government's botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have paved the way for her brother's return to the political fray in earnest.

Yingluck called elections in December in the hope that they wcould help ease tensions. But the main opposition party boycotted the vote earlier this month, and protesters caused widespread disruption, making the outcome of the election inconclusive. That has left Yingluck's caretaker administration unable to operate fully.

READ: Thailand in crisis: What's happening on the ground and why

READ: Thailand's 'up country' boom fuels political divide

READ: From flames to fiery opposition, protests rock Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela

CNN's Kocha Olarn and Saima Mohsin reported from Bangkok, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong.

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