Red shirts to protest in Bangkok

Police on standby as sixty thousand are expected at first anti-government protest since state of emergency was lifted.

    Anti-government protesters have held peaceful rallies during the state of emergency in Thailand [GALLO/GETTY]

    Hundreds of police are on standby in the Thai capital Bangkok in anticipation of an anti-government rally to be staged by the 'red shirts' on Sunday.

    A bomb explosion on Saturday in the political heartland of the opposition, meanwhile, has been termed an attempt to "incite political violence" by a government intelligence official.

    Sixty thousand opposition supporters are expected on Sunday to take to the streets for the first time since the government lifted emergency rule in December. They will demand the release of protesters, including seven key leaders, jailed after an army crackdown on their demonstrations.

    The seven leaders who are still being detained are facing terrorism charges, but the legal process has not gotten underway, as investigations are still ongoing, according to the government.

    The protest march comes as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has announced nine welfare policies, aimed at addressing social inequalities and helping low-income groups in the country.

    Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, in Bangkok, reported that the protest march will be focused on two main locations: Democracy Monument and Ratchaprasong Intersection.

    "These two areas were the scene of some of the worst violence during that long running red shirt rally last year," he said.

    "The lifting of the state of emergency basically means that, among other things, the military takes a step back from day-to-day security and hands over to the police."

    Even though the state of emergency has been lifted, however, the army could still be redeployed.

    "Bangkok remains under the Internal Security Act, and that means that if the security situation worsens, the troops can be redeployed," Hay reported.

    Bomb explodes

    Meanwhile, a bomb is reported to have exploded on Saturday in the Thai northeast, the heart of the opposition movement, ahead of the rally, according to an intelligence official.

    No injuries were reported after the early morning explosion in Khom Kaen province.

    The bomb damaged the library at a school named after General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the king's privy council and a former prime minister who the red shirts believe masterminded a coup that deposed Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.


      Q&A: Thaksin and the red shirts
      Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
      Blog: Thailand's darkest day
      Deadly grenade attacks
      Red shirts rally rural support
      Protesters fight for a voice
      Violence flares in capital
      Red shirts stage blood protest
      Thailand: Warring colours
      101 East: Thailand's red shirts

    A government intelligence official in Khon Kaen said the home-made bomb was likely a "symbolic" attack, as it destroyed a sign bearing the general's name.

    "The preliminary assumption is that it was to incite political unrest," the official, who requested anonymity, told the AFP news agency.

    Months of violence

    Last year's state of emergency had been imposed after the country suffered its worst political violence in 18 years, following red shirt clashes with the military from March to May 2010.

    The protesters at the time had demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and later accepted an offer from the PM for fresh elections in December.

    "This is just the latest in a long line of red shirt protests," Al Jazeera's Hay reported.

    "It is the first one in Bangkok since the state of emergency was lifted, but really, after that violence we saw last year the red shirts did fade away from the spotlight ... for some time. They have been back for the last few months, staging regular rallies.

    "There have been brief ... and peaceful ones. So far they really are all over by about 8pm local time and certainly that is what they are saying will happen again today for this [rally]."

    The earlier round of protests in 2010 had led to the deaths of at least 27 people. About 1,000 people also suffered injuries in the clashes between protesters and government forces.

    Businesses in the capital's main commercial areas and the crucial tourism sector both suffered during the protests.

    The state of emergency was declared on 7 April, 2010, giving the army broad powers to quell the growing protest movement. It was lifted on 21 December, 2010.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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