Red Shirts stages protests in Bangkok; demand fresh elections

Defying the state of emergency, thousands of anti-government `Red-Shirts` activists staged protests.

Last Updated: Sep 19, 2010, 21:40 PM IST

Bangkok: Defying the state of emergency,
thousands of anti-government `Red-Shirts` activists on Sunday
staged protests here demanding fresh elections marking the
fourth anniversary of a military coup that ousted exiled
Thailand prime minister Thaskin Shinawatra.

In the first major show of strength since the army
crushed street protests by the Red-shirted activists in May
this year, many of whom are Thaskin supporters, assembled
at Bangkok`s Rajprasong intersection, an upmarket shopping hub
and also at the Democracy Monument.

The monument was a site of military crackdown on
protesters four months ago, but the entire exercise passed off
peacefully, much to the relief of the government of Prime
Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

There was no report of violence either here or during
the peaceful rally at Chiang Mai, the hometown of Thaskin who
has been in self-imposed exile since 2007, reports said.

Hundreds of security personnel kept vigil as the
protesters gathered on the streets and caused traffic jam. A
smaller group of activists turned out at Democracy Monument.

The Red Shirt protests earlier this year, which
demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit call early elections, had
degenerated into violence that saw pitched battles between the
activists and the security forces, leaving 91 people dead and
more than 1,400 hurt.

Bangkok continues to remain under a state of emergency
imposed in April following the violence and soldiers have been
deployed at key points over in the past two weeks as the
government warned of possible violence in the run up to
the fourth anniversary of the coup.

Thaksin was ousted by the September 19, 2006, coup
after being accused of corruption and disrespect to Thailand`s
constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The army
acted after a series of protests and court rulings nearly
paralysed Thaksin`s ability to govern.

Many of Thaksin`s supporters come from the rural poor
and the working class who benefited from his social welfare
policies and Thailand`s urban middle class and elite see him
as a threat to democracy and view his populist brand of
politics as a danger to their own privileges.

In 2008, Thaksin opponents had laid a siege of the
prime minister`s offices for three months and occupied
Bangkok`s two airports for a week to try to force a
pro-Thaksin government out of office.

The Thai government kept the security tight, with the
army-led command centres monitoring events. All 19 senior
leaders of red-shirted activists are in jail since
April-May this year.

Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 before he was
sentenced in absentia to two years in jail. Thai courts have
issued a series of warrants for the ex-premier on charges
including terrorism -- an accusation linked to the Red Shirt
protests.

PTI