Thais flood streets to enlist public in anti-govt struggle

Thousands of Thai protesters packed trucks, cars and motorbikes in a carnival-like convoy Saturday aimed at winning over the capital's residents in their flagging "class war" against the government.

Antii-government demonstrators gather at an intersection in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday March 20, 2010.

The supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra began snaking across the capital mid-morning, dressed in their distinctive red and bringing traffic in some areas to a halt.

Police estimated there were around 25,000 demonstrators, who waved, cheered, honked horns and blared music in their day-long drive to recruit the urban middle classes and revive their waning rally, now in its seventh day.

In what they have increasingly dubbed a class war, the so-called "Red Shirts" say they are fighting Thailand's elite in bureaucratic, military and palace circles, whom they accuse of ousting elected governments.

The mainly poor, rural protesters say premier Abhisit Vejjajiva's government is illegitimate, as it came to power with army backing via a December 2008 parliamentary vote after a controversial court ruling removed Thaksin's allies.

"We will travel to find love from the people of Bangkok and to unite them with us, the poor peasants, to overthrow the elite-backed government," Red Shirt leader Veera Musikapong told the crowds before their convoy set off.

Abhisit, who has stood firm against the protesters' demand for snap elections, criticised the depiction of a class struggle on Saturday morning.

"This idea is designed to keep protesters at the rally but it has incited social unrest," he told Thailand's private-run television station Channel 3.

He said Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, was an "obstacle to negotiation" between the government and Red Shirts, who have rejected Abhisit's conditional offer of talks.

Speaking by videolink to the crowds Friday night, Thaksin, who lives in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption, apologised to the city's residents in advance for traffic jams.

"It will continue until we win and regain our justice, but I will repay you when I return," he said.

Despite the buoyant mood of Saturday's convoy, which was expected to move around the capital until 6:00pm (1100 GMT), numbers were far down on their peak of more than 100,000 when the rally began last weekend.

Though they have so far been peaceful, army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said he worried "there could be some clashes" between the travelling demonstrators and Bangkok residents.

Around 1,000 traffic policeman were on hand along the Reds' route, expected to cover up to 60 kilometres (37 miles), according to police. Authorities warned Bangkok residents to stay at home to avoid disruption.

Under a strict security law deployed for the rally, a 50,000-strong security force has been in place in Bangkok and surrounding areas this week.

Deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban earlier said the convoy could go ahead but warned demonstrators not to block traffic, "or the government will not consider it a peaceful protest".

Abhisit has not been able to return home since the rally began, remaining holed up in an army barracks with other government members due to security fears.

The protesters picketed the military base on Monday and on Wednesday threw bags of their blood at the walls of the prime minister's family home after staging the same stunt at his office a day earlier.

Since Thaksin was ousted, Thailand has been rocked by protests by both his supporters and his opponents, many of whom are in Bangkok and accuse him of corruption and of disloyalty to the revered royal family.

Source: AFP

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