Thailand's 'Red Shirts' in mass Bangkok rally

AFP, Saturday 19 May 2012

Almost 40,000 'Red Shirt' supporters from across Thailand rallied in the streets of the capital Bangkok marking the second anniversary of the 2010 deadly crackdown on protests against ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra

Protesters attend a prayer session during a rally at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, on Saturday, May 19, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Up to 40,000 "Red Shirt" supporters from across Thailand converged on central Bangkok Saturday to mark the second anniversary of a deadly crackdown on street protests, city police said.

A carnival of flag-waving Red Shirts, food vendors and the occasional monk, took over the retail heart of the city, where the 2010 protests in support of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra descended into the kingdom's worst violence in decades.

Police blocked traffic at the Ratchaprasong intersection, one of Bangkok's busiest junctions, as mainly rural working-class Red Shirts arrived en masse in coaches laid on by the movement.

"At 6pm (1100 GMT) there were around 40,000 people at Ratchaprasong," a Bangkok police spokesman said as the rally highlight -- a live video link with Red Shirt hero Thaksin -- approached.

Red Shirt leaders had anticipated between 100,000 and 200,000 people would attend the rally, which began with Buddhist prayers for those killed in the 2010 unrest and will end early Sunday.

More than 90 people, mostly civilians, died in the 2010 violence, which marked the culmination of a series of rival protests since a 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin, who now lives overseas to avoid arrest in Thailand.

The Red Shirts have called on the new government, led by Thaksin's sister Yingluck, to prosecute soldiers and officials responsible for causing the deaths and injuries, many to unarmed demonstrators.

So far no cases have been brought in connection with the violence and Yingluck's government has raised the prospect of an amnesty for those involved, prompting an outcry from human rights groups.

Red Shirt leader Thida Thavornseth stood on the stage -- framed by a banner proclaiming in Thai 'Our friends must not die in vain' -- and thanked the crowd for coming.

"Your numbers are a testament to the fact that our movement still exists and is getting stronger and stronger," she said.

The city's vast Central World shopping mall, which was set alight in the chaotic and bloody endgame to the 2010 protests, closed early as the crowd packed into the courtyard outside waiting for Thaksin's address.

"We love him," said Sunan Chansinng, who made the two-hour trip from Pattaya for the rally. "He cares about the poor and nobody else does in Thailand."

Thailand has seen a string of violent protests since 2005, involving the arch royalist and nationalist Yellow Shirts, the Red Shirts and several smaller factions.

Short link: