Thai anti-government protesters demand new elections

Thousands of supporters of former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra rallied in Bangkok on Thursday, turning up the heat on Thailand’s embattled government ahead of big protests planned for January in a push for new elections.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) held a one-day rally near Democracy Monument to press for the dissolution of Parliament and a repeal of the 2007 Constitution, drafted by the army after it ousted Thaksin in a coup in 2006.

The UDD says the Constitution is undemocratic.

The “red shirts” initially planned prolonged street rallies for this month, rattling financial markets, but they were postponed out of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the festivities to mark his 82nd birthday on December 5.

UDD opponents have accused the “red shirts” and Thaksin of pursuing a republican agenda, which they deny.

“We are here today to request a change in the constitution because the existing one causes problems to the country. We reassure everyone that our rally will be peaceful and we have no weapons,” Jatuporn Phrompan, a UDD coordinator, told Reuters.

“Our next mission is to expel the government,” he added, declining to say precisely when in the new year larger-scale protests might start.

The extra-parliamentary UDD says it is a pro-democracy movement battling Thailand’s traditional power-holders—royalists, urban business elites and the military—whom they accuse of undermining elected, pro-Thaksin governments.

A crowd of about 10 000 people had assembled by late afternoon and UDD leaders anticipated more arriving later. Thaksin was expected to address the crowd by telephone during the evening and the rally was due to end at midnight.

The rally marked the first time since September such a “red shirt” protest went ahead without the government invoking a harsh security law allowing the military to control demonstrations.
The UDD said it had 1 000 of its own unarmed guards to prevent any unrest.

“Red shirt” rallies have played a major part in Thailand’s protracted turmoil this year, hampering the government’s ability to run the country and prompting fears of a violent escalation.

Credit ratings for Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, have been downgraded as a result of the instability, and worries are growing about the major rallies planned for January.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for conflict of interest offences.—Reuters

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