BANGKOK, April 4, 2010 (AFP) - Thailand's government on Sunday said it would seek a court order to force anti-government protesters, loyal to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, to end their crippling rally in Bangkok's tourist hub.
The "Red Shirts", who are demanding immediate elections to pave the way for the return of fugitive Thaksin, escalated their three-week rally a day earlier, massing in the capital's main shopping and luxury hotel district.
|Red Shirts supporters shout slogans during anti-government protests at a tourist hub in Bangkok on April 4, 2010. AFP photo|
With businesses and tourism threatened, the government has banned the gathering under a strict security law invoked to cover the protests, and threatened protesters with a year in jail.
Deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in charge of security, said the government would seek a court order to increase pressure on the Reds to leave after the weekend.
"Legal experts are drafting a request to submit to court tomorrow. When we have a court order the government will see what we can do," said Suthep.
"We will avoid force which risks clashes. But we may have to send authorities to the site."
Police said about 30,000 Reds, most of whom come from Thailand's poorer rural northern provinces, have ignored the government's warning to remain on Sunday.
"I am not afraid of being arrested and put in jail. I am sure I will have many people there with me," said one defiant protester, Kampa Ngaokor, a 55-year-old farmer from the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum.
In a televised address, premier Abhisit Vejjajiva urged the Red Shirts to return to a protest site in the capital's government quarter.
"(We) know that some people want the government to use tough measures but we are all Thai. The government will use international standards starting with soft measures," Abhisit said.
Authorities are seeking to avoid a repeat of last April's clashes with Red Shirts that left two people dead, six months after riot police took on the Reds' rival Yellow Shirts in other bloody scenes outside parliament.
Thai society is split between Thaksin's Reds, who accuse Abhisit's government of being elitist and army-backed, and the Yellow Shirts, supporters of the country's establishment who accuse Thaksin of gross corruption.
The Reds continued their demonstrations under sun umbrellas amid sweltering temperatures on Sunday, forcing many shopping malls to close for a second day and seizing up traffic in the district.
"We use our rights (to stay) under the constitution because this is a peaceful protest," Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar told reporters.
Police said some 60,000 protesters had filled the upmarket shopping area on Saturday, but tourists appeared largely unfazed, with some enjoying the rally's carnival-like atmosphere with dancing and live music in the streets.
The military has mounted a heavy security response involving 50,000 personnel for the protests.
The Reds oppose the coup that toppled Thaksin in 2006 and say Abhisit's government is undemocratic because it took office through a parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin's allies of power.
Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for graft at home, has regularly addressed the protesters via videolink, urging them not to back down.
The Reds have staged a series of dramatic stunts to press their demands, including throwing their own blood at Abhisit's offices.
They rioted in Bangkok in April last year, leaving two dead and scores injured.
The Yellow Shirts' protests precipitated the 2006 coup that deposed Thaksin, while their 2008 campaign led to a crippling nine-day blockade of the country's airports.