Anti-government protest takes to the streets in Thailand

March 20th, 2010 - 7:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Abhisit Vejjajiva Bangkok, March 20 (DPA) More than 100,000 anti-government demonstrators joined a “red caravan” protest on wheels through Bangkok’s congestion-prone streets Saturday in an attempt to win the capital over and force the dissolution of parliament.
The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), better known as the red shirts for their colour preference in T-shirts, sent more than 10,000 motorcycles, 7,000 pickup trucks and cars from Bangkok’s Rajdamnoen Avenue on a 100-km tour of the city to drum up support among the capital’s denizens, police estimated.

The UDD is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the dissolution of parliament and a call for new elections to pave the way for a political comeback for ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his political allies.

Traffic was brought to a standstill in much of the city to allow the 20 km, red-flag bedecked, horn-honking caravan to pass. Thousands of supporters lined Bangkok’s streets to cheer the protesters and joining their chant of “Abhisit get out. Abhisit get out”.

The UDD, which has been holding rallies in Bangkok since last weekend, claimed the protest was a success.

“The people of Bangkok have shown their love for the red shirts,” said Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a senior opposition politician and key adviser to the UDD and the Puea Thai opposition party, both of which retain close links with Thaksin Shinawatra.

Abhisit reiterated Saturday that he is willing to negotiate with the red shirts. Members of the Thai senate have proposed talks between the government and UDD members Monday, to discuss the framework for negotiations.

“We are open to talks on talks,” Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanagagorn said. “The prime minister has said he is open to talks with the UDD providing they do not include the cases of Thaksin, which are between him and the state,” Panitan told DPA.

Chavalit, addressing a red shirt crowd at Rakdamnoen Avenue after the caravan wound up, seemed to reject the dialogue offer.

“I say, don’t listen to what Abhisit says,” he told the crowd.

The caravan stunt arguably won more support for the protesters, at least from Bangkok’s low-income earners.

“I can’t leave my job during the day but I will go listen to the red shirts’ rally tonight,” said Chanwit Phomsida, a taxi motorcyclist on Ekkamai Road.

So far the UDD protest has been peaceful but observers fear it could turn violent if it drags on too long and fails to achieve its aims.

Thaksin, in self-exile in Dubai to avoid a two-year prison sentence on an abuse of power conviction, has made phone-in addresses to his supporters urging them to continue their protest.

Thaksin, a former police officer-turned telecommunications tycoon-turned politician, was prime minister from 2001-06 until he was ousted by a military coup after months of street protests against his rule.

The UDD protest comes at a time when Thaksin’s political and financial fortunes have reached a nadir.

The Supreme Court Feb 26 found Thaksin guilty of abusing his powers as prime minister to benefit his family-owned Shin Corp Group. It ruled to seize $1.4 billion of $2.3 billion in frozen bank accounts belonging to him and his family.

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Posted in Politics, Thailand |