Anti-government rally in Bangkok targets royal advisors (Lead)

April 8th, 2009 - 3:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Abhisit Vejjajiva Bangkok, April 8 (DPA) More than 50,000 red-shirted anti-government protestors swarmed Bangkok’s government quarter Wednesday in a demonstration of support for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
At midday the masses of people were calm, enjoying a break from recent rains, but many protestors were moving towards the home of chief royal advisor Prem Tinsulanda who they blame for hatching the military coup that toppled Thaksin in September 2006.

A key orator for the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt movement, Jatuporn Promphan, said the country did not need royal advisors like Prem any more.

“We don’t need the Privy Council, we only need democracy. These people are a wall between the people and his majesty. We can’t communicate with our king - and this is not acceptable,” said Jatuporn.

Another Red Shirt leader, Nattawut Saikeau, earlier warned protestors that they might run up against opponents armed with crude weapons, but they should not strike the first blow. The organisers of the protest claimed about 80,000 people had gathered, which is near to earlier police predictions on the size of the demonstration. A DPA reporter at the scene estimated between 50,000 and 70,000 protestors were present.

The capital has been in an apprehensive mood in the run-up to the protest, especially after Red Shirt protestors in the nearby resort city of Pattaya smashed a window of the prime minister’s car Tuesday. Also Tuesday, the police revealed what they claimed was a plot to assassinate a member of the Privy Council.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a television interview the government would not resign and would, if necessary, take tough measures to rein in unruly protests. However, he said “good protestors” would be handled with kid gloves by the police.

Wednesday’s protest was intended to show national dissatisfaction with “interfering old aristocrats” like Prem who are meddling in politics and holding the country back, said Jakrapop Penkair, a Red Shirt strategist. The three-year-old movement wants the government to resign and the army and royal advisors to back off the political stage.

The Red Shirts aimed to swarm the area containing Prem’s house, the Royal Plaza near Parliament and also Government House where they have been camped out since March 26.

The Red Shirts take their colour to distinguish themselves from the royalist yellow of their opponents, who habitually claim to be protecting the monarchy from Thaksin and his cohorts.

Although Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, is highly revered and his Privy Council wields considerable influence, including the power to name the next king.

Critics of the fugitive former prime minister, who is outside Thailand to dodge jail for corruption, claim that he merely wants his two-year jail term for abuse of office forgiven and $2 billion in frozen assets returned.

But others fear a comeback by the former leader who remains popular among the mostly poorer part of Thai society.

Wednesday’s protests were seen as a test of political pulling power and organising abilities by both sides. Protestors say Abhisit’s government is illegal because it gained power after two Thaksin-backed governments were brought down by the military and the bureaucracy that favours the older established powers.

The Red Shirts have also threatened to disrupt this weekend’s summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations, being hosted by Thailand in the beach resort city of Pattaya.

But analysts expect anti-government protests to go quiet for a week during the Thai Songkran holiday - equivalent to Chinese New Year - that also starts this weekend.

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