Thousands of Thaksin supporters call for gov't to resign

Thousands of supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra converged outside Thailand's main government offices in Bangkok calling for the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which took power in December, to leave office.


AFP - Thousands of supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra rallied outside Thailand's main government offices in Bangkok Saturday, vowing to fight on until the new administration left office.

The protesters spent nearly two hours marching towards Government House, arriving just before midnight (0500GMT) after making their way past four steel barricades across their route, manned by unarmed riot police.

"We have arrived at Government House... We are not going to go inside," said rally leader Nattawut Saikuar.

Rally leaders earlier said they would remain outside Government House, where they would read a list of demands that include the dissolution of government, before dispersing.

Around 30,000 protesters gathered in the evening at Sanam Luang park in Bangkok to hear protesters' speeches before the crowd set off, led by more than 100 motorbikes and 10 trucks carrying rally leaders.

Police deployed 5,250 officers in response to the rally, Lieutenant General Suchart Mueankaoe, commander of Bangkok Metropolitan police, told AFP, with many more on standby along with the army.

Many officers lined the 4 kilometre (2.5-mile) route to Government House, fearing a repeat of a three-month siege by rival protesters that began last August.

Saturday's protesters -- known as the "Red Shirts" because their crimson clothes show they oppose the yellow-clad, anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) -- said they would give the government 15 days to leave before staging a permanent protest.

The crowd was in good spirits during its march, waving Thai flags and foot-shaped clappers as they walked past police, encountering delays only at the fourth barricade that was heavily fortified with chains and barbed wire.

The Red Shirts are calling for those involved in a siege of Bangkok's airports last year to be fired from government jobs and then prosecuted, and for parliament to be dissolved.

Organiser Jakrapob Penkair said the government was illegitimate and accused the army of staging a silent coup to bring it to power.

"We have experienced several fights, several coups, but there is no fight as important as this one because we have to fight to bring back our nation," said Jakrapob.

"How can the party that lost in elections three times become the government? The army denies being involved in setting up this government but no one believes them anymore," he added.

Thousands of anti-Thaksin protesters occupied Government House for three months last year before moving their protest to a blockade of Bangkok's airports as they tried to topple the government elected in December 2007.

They said the ruling People Power Party (PPP) was running the country on behalf of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup but has remained enormously divisive despite living in exile for most of the time since the putsch.

The PAD escalated their campaign for the PPP government's downfall and seized Bangkok's two airports between November 25 and December 3. They eventually got their wish when a court dissolved the PPP and forced then-premier Somchai Wongsawat from office.

The move paved the way for the Democrat Party's Abhisit Vejjajiva to be elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote last month, alienating many PPP supporters who felt robbed of their democratic rights.

Abhisit sparked outrage in December by appointing PAD sympathiser Kasit Piromya to the post of foreign minister and two other PAD members to key adviser positions.

But speaking earlier on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland, Abhisit said he was not worried by Saturday's rally.

"I think the mood of the people now is that they very much want to move forward, they want to get over the current divisions, they want to see a government that works hard, that deals with people's concerns and has the honesty and integrity that has been missing for so long," Abhisit said.


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