Tens of thousands of supporters of Thailand’s “Red Shirt” protest movement have staged a mass rally in Bangkok, police said, amid renewed political tensions in the troubled country.
The Reds, who are broadly loyal to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, marked the 80th anniversary of the coup that ended Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a call for the judiciary to stay out of politics.
“Today we mark the 80th anniversary and show our concern over threats to democracy. Let’s prepare for an unfinished fight,” Red Shirt leader Kokaew Pikulthong told the crowd near the capital’s Democracy Monument on Sunday.
Thailand has seen about 20 attempted or actual coups since 1932, he noted.
“In recent years they have changed from military to judicial coups,” he said, arguing that Thaksin and his allies had been unfairly targeted.
An estimated 30,000 people had joined the rally by early evening, a special branch police officer told AFP news agency.
The country has been riven by political tensions since Thaksin was ousted by royalist generals in a 2006 coup.
Judicial rulings have played a pivotal role, with courts forcing two pro-Thaksin prime ministers from office in 2008.
Mass opposition protests by the Red Shirts in April and May 2010 paralysed parts of central Bangkok, triggering a military crackdown that left more than 90 people dead in the country’s worst civil unrest in decades.
Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who lives in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption, is loved by many rural and poor Thais for his populist policies while in power, but hated by the elite who see him as a threat to the monarchy.
His sister Yingluck Shinawatra is now prime minister after a landslide election win by her brother’s party last year.
This month her party postponed voting in parliament on controversial “reconciliation” proposals strongly opposed by opposition members of parliament, who fear they will be used to grant an amnesty to Thaksin.
The government’s moves have also put it at odds with the judiciary: the Constitutional Court ordered a halt to voting on a charter amendment bill after a complaint by senators that it aimed to overthrow the monarchy.
A final decision is expected next month, which will determine whether the debate can go ahead in August.
A provisional court order this month caused the suspension of parliamentary debate on changes to the constitution.
The Red Shirts say the latest court order shows complicity between the judiciary and powerful elite around the royalist establishment and the army.
‘Defy the court’
“The courts take their orders from the ruling classes. They are an obstacle to true democracy and that is why we are here today – this country still doesn’t have true democracy,” Somwang Assarasee, a Red Shirt leader, told Reuters news agency.
“If the court decides the charter cannot be amended, we will not listen. We are prepared to defy the court.”
The courts have made decisions on several occasions in recent years that have caused pro-Thaksin governments to fall.
Thaksin has been accused of republican leanings – taboo in a country where the king is revered by many – although he has always denied that.
To the anger of some red shirts, Yingluck has ignored calls to amend lese-majeste laws that can give lengthy prison sentences to those found guilty of insulting the royal family.