Meet demands or resign, protesters tell Thai governmentMarch 14th, 2010 - 6:17 pm ICT by IANS
Bangkok, March 14 (DPA) Tens of thousands of protesters from provinces throughout Thailand gathered in Bangkok Sunday to pressure the government to resign within 24 hours and call new elections.
An estimated 100,000 followers of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) gathered Sunday on Rajdamnoen Avenue in the old part of Bangkok for a demonstration aimed at toppling the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
UDD leaders gave Abhisit 24 hours to answer their demands that he resign, dissolve parliament and call for new elections.
“If he doesn’t answer within 24 hours, then we are going to take a walk through Bangkok,” said UDD core leader Natawut Saikuer, addressing a crowd of red-clad supporters on Rajdamnoen Avenue.
The mass protest, so far, has fallen far short of the “million man march” that the UDD had promised.
Participants, mostly middle aged and elderly Thais hailing from the north and north-east, Thailand’s poorest regions, were joined by 2,000 Buddhist monks Sunday evening who called on the government not to use violence in suppressing the demonstration.
Should its demands not be met, the UDD is threatening to march on various “sensitive” locations in Bangkok, such as the home of Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda, whom they claim was behind the September 2006 coup that toppled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thus far the demonstrations have been non-violent.
“I want to thank the red shirts for keeping order,” Abhisit said in a television broadcast Sunday. “But the government is worried about some groups within the red shirts who might try to create a confrontation.”
Abhisit cancelled a cabinet meeting planned for Tuesday.
The government placed Bangkok and seven surrounding provinces under the Internal Security Act as of Thursday, empowering authorities to prohibit protests in sensitive areas and arrest perpetrators of violence for up to a year.
If the situation takes a turn for the worse, Abhisit can invoke the Emergency Act, putting security directly under the military instead of the police, and allowing greater immunity for security personnel.
The UDD is a mass movement whose broad goals are to force Abhisit to resign and for new elections to be called to pave the way for a political comeback for fugitive former premier Thaksin and his allies.
Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, continues to hold sway over millions of the country’s urban and rural poor and also enjoys support from a broad spectrum of Thai society intent on changing the status quo.
“We love Thaksin,” said Nanaphat Tanapitchwichit, 41, an unemployed former street vendor from Chon Buri province. “Thaksin is clever. All Abhisit can do is talk and talk. He can’t solve our economic problems.”
Thaksin has been living in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai, since August 2006 to avoid a two-year jail sentence on abuse-of-power charges.
His political and financial fortunes have arguably reached a nadir.
The Supreme Court for Political Office Holders Feb 26 found Thaksin guilty of abuse of power and ordered the seizure of 1.4 billion of the $2.3 billion in frozen bank assets belonging to Thaksin and his family.
The former telecommunications tycoon Saturday night delivered a phone-in message to his supporters gathered at Rajdamnoen Avenue, saying, “The more you come out, the more I want to fight. I’m so grateful to all of you and I’ll go back to pay you back.”
It is widely understood that Thaksin, despite his diminished fortune, remains one of the main financiers of the UDD, which needs an estimated 30 million baht ($909,000) per 100,000 protesters to feed and transport them for the protests.
The government has a 35,000-strong joint police and army force on hand in Bangkok this weekend with another 46,000 civilian volunteers available if things get hectic.
Hospitals have been put on alert and information centres set up in the city for potentially befuddled foreign tourists.
About 30 countries have issued travel warnings for Bangkok because of the protest.
Traffic was bad in the areas where the protesters have gathered, but abnormally uncluttered elsewhere in the capital as many Bangkok residents chose to stay at home and off the streets.
Many shops and schools have been closed in Bangkok since Friday and will stay closed on Monday.
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