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Thai oppn protesters demand fresh election
Bangkok, Mar 14 (Agencies)
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Published on 14 Mar. 2010 11:27 PM IST
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Many backers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from all over Thailand are converging in Thailand’s capital Sunday to press their demand that the government dissolve Parliament or face massive demonstrations at key sites in the city. The protesters — many from the impoverished northeast and north — want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call new elections, which they believe will allow their political allies to regain power. Tens of thousands of the protesters, all wearing red arm bands, have insisted that parliament be dissolved and have given the government until Monday at noon to accede to their demands or face mass marches on key locations in Bangkok. The anti-government protesters want to have Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajhiva unseated, who took over from Thaksin after a 2006 military coup. Prime Minister Abhisit said on Sunday he would not step down or dissolve parliament. He also said the government has no plans to crack down on protesters. Demonstrations will now continue in Bangkok for several days. Unofficial counts so far say there are around 100,000 people involved in the demonstration, although organisers were hoping for higher numbers. Even though officials of the march said they would ensure the demonstration was peaceful, authorities have deployed thousands of police and troops to maintain order. The last opposition protest in April 2009 developed into a riot which left two people dead and many others injured. There was also considerable damage to surrounding shops and buildings. Even though former PM Thaksin currently lives in Dubai, he is extremely popular amongst Thailand’s poor and rural population. His supporters have been hoping they can return him to power. Thailand has been in constant political turmoil since early 2006, when demonstrations accusing Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power began. In 2008, when Thaksin’s political allies came back to power for a year, his opponents occupied the prime minister’s office compound for three months and seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week. Recent polls in Bangkok indicate a large segment of the population, irrespective of their political beliefs, is fed up with the protests, which have battered the economy, including the lucrative tourism industry. The Red Shirts’ last major protest in Bangkok last April deteriorated into rioting that left two people dead, more than 120 people injured and buses burned on major thoroughfares. The army was called in to quash the unrest. Many embassies have warned their citizens to stay away from areas of the city where violence could erupt Hospitals have been put on alert and information centres set up in the city for potentially befuddled foreign tourists. The former telecommunications tycoon Saturday night delivered a phone-in message to his supporters gathered at Rajdamnoen Avenue, saying, “The more you come out, the more I want to fight. I’m so grateful to all of you and I’ll go back to pay you back.” It is widely understood that Thaksin, despite his diminished fortune, remains one of the main financiers of the UDD, which needs an estimated 30 million baht ($909,000) per 100,000 protesters to feed and transport them for the protests. The government has a 35,000-strong joint police and army force on hand in Bangkok this weekend with another 46,000 civilian volunteers available if things get hectic. Hospitals have been put on alert and information centres set up in the city for potentially befuddled foreign tourists. About 30 countries have issued travel warnings for Bangkok because of the protest. Many shops and schools have been closed in Bangkok since Friday and will stay closed on Monday. About 30 countries have issued travel warnings for Bangkok because of the protest. Traffic was bad in the areas where the protesters have gathered, but abnormally uncluttered elsewhere in the capital as many Bangkok residents chose to stay at home and off the streets. Many shops and schools have been closed in Bangkok since Friday and will stay closed on Monday.

 
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