Thai 'Red Shirts' demand new polls

Tens of thousands of demonstrators call for resignation of prime minister Vejjajiva.

    Three years after a bloodless coup, Thailand is as divided and volatile as ever [AFP]

    Potential violence

    Thaksin was due to address the crowd by video-link and organisers said the rally would move to the house of Prem Tinsulanonda, who the red shirts accuse of masterminding the coup, and who advises the country's king.

    About 9,000 soldiers and police and imposed were deployed by the government in the city and an Internal Security Act imposed around the rally venue, allowing the military to close roads and make arrests.

    Abhisit said there were reports that unidentified groups of  troublemakers could set off bombs in the capital to create unrest.

    "I am worried about the situation tonight and have warned intelligence agencies," he said.

    From early morning on Saturday, military checkpoints had been set up as well as barricades to contain any potential violence.

    Violent protests

    King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, has reigned for more than six decades, serving as head of state through 15 successful or attempted coups and 16 constitutions.

    In depth

     Interview: Thaksin speaks
     Background: Who's who
     Economy: Vital tourist trade threatened
     Focus: Scarred by 'Mad Monday'
     Interview: What the Red Shirts want
     Timeline: Thai crisis
     Pictures: Red Shirts retreat
     Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
     Video: Thai protesters retreat
     Video: Red Shirt leader speaks
     Video: Thaksin discusses Thailand's troubles

    Thai police deployed about 600 police to protect the house of Prem, the senior advisor to King Adulyadej.

    Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for the Thai government, told Al Jazeera: "Demonstrations in a democratic society is normal as long as there is order, are held under the law and there is no violence."

    Violent street protests by Thaksin's supporters and opponents have blocked roads, airports and government buildings and brought Bangkok to a halt twice in the past year.

    Thaksin won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005 but was overthrown in the coup.

    But he was convicted last year by the supreme court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on conflict of interest charges in relation to a land purchase scandal.

    Thaksin remains popular among Thailand's rural poor for the populist policies he introduced.

    Despite being in self-imposed exile, he remains an influential force and has sent almost daily video and audio messages to Red Shirt rallies, supporting their call for the current prime minister to resign and hold fresh elections.

    The Red Shirts took their cue from protests last year by rival Yellow Shirts, who took to the streets in huge demonstrations against successive pro-Thaksin governments.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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