Police on standby as sixty thousand are expected at first anti-government protest since state of emergency was lifted.
|Thaksin said the next election will test Thai leaders on their willingness to recognise the will of the people [EPA]|
Thousands of red-shirted demonstrators have rallied in the Thai capital to mark one year since violent clashes left at least 90 dead and about 1,400 injured last year.
The gathering at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok came a day after Abhisit Vejjajjiva, the Thai prime minister, said he will dissolve parliament and call for elections, expected in June.
The so-called red shirts have been demanding early elections claiming Abhisit came to power through undemocratic means.
Thailand has been embroiled in a political war that has been raging since 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted from office in a 2006 bloodless military coup following months of protests alleging he was corrupt and had treated the country’s esteemed King Bhumibol Adulyadej with disrespect.
The former prime minister’s supporters came back to win elections in December 2007, only to be forced from power a year later by a combination of judicial and legislative manoeuvring.
On Saturday Thaksin told supporters via video link from overseas that “the next elections will be another test that can prove if those in power can respect the people’s decision”.
He fled into exile in 2008 to escape a jail term on a corruption conviction, insisting he was a victim of political persecution.
‘Struggle for justice’
Saturday’s rally was also the first joint appearance on stage of the red shirt movement’s top leaders since they were freed on bail late last month after being detained on terrorism charges last May. They have said they will run in the next elections, partly to gain parliamentary immunity against future arrest.
Thaksin’s opponents and supporters have both staged aggressive street protests, the most violent being the red shirt demonstrations of last year, which ended with the burning of a major shopping mall and other public buildings as the Thai military crushed the protesters.
Nattawut Saikua, a red shirt leader, said at the protest site that the group would struggle for justice for members killed, injured or detained during last year’s unrest.
“And if there is a dissolution of parliament and the conditions for general elections are met, we are ready to push the red shirt people to fight in the election battle as well.”