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Asia-pacific

'Red Shirts' pour blood at prime minister's house

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Latest update : 2010-03-17

Thousands of "Red-Shirt" supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in Bangkok on Wednesday to pour their donated blood in front of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's residence, and call for his resignation.

REUTERS - Protesters emptied bottles of their blood outside the home of Thailand's prime minister on Wednesday after the government rejected calls for elections, but the opposition campaign was showing signs of flagging.

Despite the fourth day of street rallies in Bangkok, Thai stocks hit a 19-month high and the baht currency raced to its strongest level in 22 months. Investors have been emboldened by the lack of violence and the view that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would survive the crisis.

Economists say the central bank will likely bring forward an expected interest rate rise that could have been delayed by unrest. Benchmark five-year bond yields dropped two basis points to 3.53 percent as prices rose.

"The political event does not have as much teeth as expected," said Chakkrit Charoenmetachai, an analyst with Globlex Securities, adding that foreign money should continue to flow into Thai assets if the protest did not end in violence.

But the supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra are not letting up in their campaign for new elections.

Thousands of the "red shirt" protesters gathered outside the United States embassy demanding clarification of comments by Thailand's deputy prime minister who said the Thai government had received U.S. intelligence of possible sabotage during the rally.

Honking horns, singing folk songs and waving red flags, protesters also converged on Abhisit's house in an affluent Bangkok neighbourhood where they emptied bottles of their blood on the gates and fences amid pouring rain.

"We have accomplished what we came to do. We have washed Abhisit's house with the blood of the common people to express our wish," said protest leader Nattawut Saikua, as thousands of supporters rattled their plastic clappers.

Protesters say the splashing of blood was a "symbolic sacrifice for democracy". It is also a bid to re-energise a peaceful movement that appears to be waning.

Fatigue

Some "red shirts" were showing signs of fatigue after days on Bangkok's streets. Of up to 150,000 demonstrators who massed on Sunday night, many had left. Police say about 40,000 remained on Wednesday, still large compared to past protests.

The threat of sporadic violence remains but a clash looks increasingly unlikely. Abhisit has not stayed at his home since Friday and has instead taken refuge at a military base, keeping a low profile. He went to the drought-afflicted north on Tuesday and left the capital on Wednesday for a funeral.

Despite fiery rhetoric by demonstrators on how the mainly rural "red shirts" have been marginalised by the military, urban elite and royalists who back Abhisit, some expressed frustration about the rally's lack of impact and clear direction.

"I am not sure we will win this time, especially without any real bloodshed," said Pitaya Boonkum, a Bangkok taxi driver from northeastern Roi-et province.

"Red shirt" leaders, however, lauded the big show of non-violent support as a victory for their movement. "We have put concepts of class differences and double standards into the public's mind," Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, told Reuters.

He said the group has not decided what the next move will be.

The twice-elected Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and later sentenced in absentia to two years jail for graft. He fled into exile shortly before his sentence was passed and lives mainly in Dubai, but is now thought to be in Europe.

A drop in numbers may force the leaders to start looking for ways to end the rally in the near future.

"It's tricky for them. They have to do it in a way that does not embarrass the leaders and disappoint participants too much because that could undermine their credibility among their own supporters," said political scientist Somjai Phagaphasvivat.

"But in the long term, (keeping the rally peaceful) helps their image, especially among the public who are on the fence -- people who agree with their cause but have been reluctant to join because they do not support Thaksin and disagree with violence."

 

Date created : 2010-03-17

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