Thailand’s pro-government “Red Shirt” supporters of the embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have rallied for a second day, vowing to protect her against a slew of legal challenges that could see her toppled within weeks.
Tens of thousands of Yingluck’s supporters descended on a wide road in a Bangkok suburb on Sunday, in a colourful and boisterous show of support for the crisis-mired premier, who has faced months of anti-government demonstrations.
Drawn mostly from the poor but populous north and northeast, the Red Shirts said they will not accept the removal of another democratically elected government by a Bangkok-based royalist establishment backed by the judiciary and the military.
“This will be the final fight,” Red Shirt chairman Jatuporn Prompan told the rally, which is due to end on Monday.
“We are here to settle the bill with the elite,” he said. “It is better to die than be slaves.”
The rally has so far been peaceful. But the last time the group gathered en masse in Bangkok, shooting broke out nearby and five people were killed.
Scores of people died in 2010 in an army crackdown on a Red Shirt rally against the ousting of a Thaksin-allied government by the nation’s courts.
Yingluck is currently serving as a caretaker prime minister whose power were automatically reduced when she called February elections, dissolving the lower house of Parliament. That move was meant to ease the political crisis, but it only intensified.
Although elections were held, the poll was annulled last month by the Constitutional Court. No date has been set for a new vote.
Political violence linked to the current round of turmoil has killed 24 people and left hundreds wounded, raising fears of a wider civil conflict if the two bitterly divided sides can not reach a compromise.
That seems unlikely with the kingdom’s political crisis poised to enter a new and potentially turbulent phase with legal challenges mounting against Yingluck.
By Sunday afternoon “there were an estimated 30,000 Red Shirts,” Paradorn Pattanatabut, a security adviser to the premier, told the Agence France Press news agency.
He said the rally drew around 100,000 people at its peak on Saturday evening, several times larger than a figure given by the rival anti-government movement.
Opposition protesters in Bangkok want to oust Yingluck and install an unelected premier to oversee reforms aimed at curbing corruption and money politics, which they blame on the rise of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, Yingluck’s elder brother, became premier in 2001 before being ousted in a military coup five years later and lives overseas to avoid jail for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
Yingluck could face indictment over negligence charges linked to a controversial and costly rice subsidy scheme.
The nation’s Constitutional Court is also mulling accusations of abuse of power by the premier over the transfer of a top security official.
The Red Shirts accuse the courts of political bias and have pledged to resist legal moves to topple Yingluck, which are expected within weeks.
The rival rallies have highlighted the political fault lines that have riven Thai society since Thaksin’s overthrow by royalist generals in 2006.