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Thai PM supporters kick off days-long rallies

Protesters pledge to deter any move to dismiss Shinawatra Yingluck, who faces legal challenges that can end her rule.

Last updated: 05 Apr 2014 15:10
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Thousands of supporters of Thailand's prime minister have massed in the capital, as part of a three-day rally countering months of anti-government protests, pledging to deter any move to dismiss Prime Minister Shinawatra Yingluck, who faces a growing list of legal challenges that could bring down her administration.

Up to 20,000 Red Shirts were already gathered by Saturday morning, several hours ahead of the official start of the rally, according to Paradorn Pattanatabut, a security adviser to the premier.

"The authorities expect more than 200,000 Red Shirts to turn out," he told AFP, as supporters of the movement poured into the capital in buses and trucks for what is expected to be their biggest show of strength in the months-long crisis.

Paradorn said the authorities did not expect any clashes with rival anti-government protesters who have been holding daily rallies at a park in the city centre, far from the site of the Red Shirt rallies.

"What we are concerned by is third parties," he said, alluding to unidentified assailants who have launched a series of gun and grenade attacks around the capital in recent months, often targeting opposition protesters.

'Judicial coup'

Thailand has been shaken by more than five months of anti-government protests that snowballed after the ruling party tried to ram an amnesty bill through Parliament that would have allowed Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, to return from self-imposed exile and avoid serving a jail sentence for corruption.

Thaksin, a billionaire former prime minister who now lives in Dubai, was overthrown by the army in a 2006 coup after being accused of abuse of power.

The struggle pits the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother against anti-government protesters from middle class in Bangkok and the south backed by the conservative elite. Yingluck's opposition want her government replaced by an unelected "people's council" of notable worthies before a new election is held.

Although protests targeting Yingluck have dwindled, judicial pressure has been on the rise.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court accepted a case against her lodged by 27 senators who say Yingluck abused power when she transferred the national security chief in 2011.

Yingluck has been given 15 days to defend herself before the court. If found guilty, she faces removal from office.

She also faces charges of negligence brought against her by the National Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with a government rice-buying scheme that has run-up huge losses. She could be impeached if the case is forwarded to the Senate.

Most analysts predict her administration will eventually fall in a ``judicial coup,'' because Thailand's courts and independent state agencies are widely seen as biased against Thaksin's political machine. There are fears that if that happens, violence will follow as Yingluck's backers react.

Earlier this week in the northeastern province of Udon Thani, about 1,000 Red Shirt members took part in a martial arts training that organizers said was intended was aimed at protecting democracy and the elected government.

Twenty-four people have been killed and more than 700 injured since the anti-government protests erupted in late November.  

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