Red Shirts staged the first major demonstration since the military crackdown on protests in May [Reuters]

Thai anti-government protesters have defied an ongoing state of emergency to stage a major demonstration in central Bangkok to mark the anniversary of the 2006 military coup.

Thousands of so-called Red Shirts massed in the capital city on Sunday, the first such gathering since their street protests earlier this year were ended by a deadly military crackdown.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister, supported by the red shirt protesters, was toppled in the September 2006 coup.

The protesters gathered at the Ratchaprasong intersection, an upmarket shopping district they had occupied earlier this year, and paid tribute to those who died during the May crackdown.

Police said about 6,000 red shirts gathered in the city's commercial centre, closely monitored by hundreds of security forces.

"This showed that a large number of red shirt people, despite the emergency decree being in effect, are still passionate and want to express their feelings," said Sombat Boonngamanong, a protest organiser.

"We have learned our lessons and we must bring ourselves out of this shadow," said Sombat, referring to the violence that marred the earlier protests.

Violent protests

Anti-government protests earlier this year demanding that Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai prime minister, call for early elections escalated into violence that paralysed Bangkok turning the capital into a virtual war zone.

More than 90 people were killed with another 1,400 mostly demonstrators wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces.

"I want everyone to look to the future. I want to see the healing of people who suffered from the conflict. I want to see people forgive each other"

Thaksin Shinawatra, former Thai PM, via Twitter

When troops moved in with live ammunition to clear the demonstrators on May 19 hardcore protesters set fire to almost three dozen buildings around the city, including Thailand's biggest luxury shopping mall and the stock exchange.

Most top Red Shirt leaders have been detained.

On Sunday protesters shouted "People died here" and "Abhisit, get out" before the demonstration culminated in a candlelight vigil and the release of 10,000 balloons to honour those who died in the earlier protests.

A smaller crowd turned out at Bangkok's Democracy Monument, a traditional gathering point for demonstrations which was also the site of a clash between the red shirts and soldiers in April.

Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire who lives abroad in self-exile to avoid a jail term for corruption, called on his followers via Twitter to avoid further violence ahead of the double anniversary.

"I want everyone to look to the future. I want to see the healing of people who suffered from the conflict. I want to see people forgive each other," he said, adding that he was currently in Lebanon.

Thaksin is detested by the Yellow Shirts, who are backed by the Bangkok-based elites.

Rallies by the so-called Yellow Shirts in 2006 helped trigger the coup that toppled Thaksin, whom they accuse of being corrupt, dictatorial and a threat to Thailand's widely revered monarchy.

The Thai capital remains under a state of emergency imposed in April that gives the military broad powers, and soldiers have been deployed at key locations over the past two weeks as the government warned of possible violence around the coup anniversary.

Source: Agencies