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'Red shirts' in huge rally to support Thai premier
Publication Date : 06-04-2014
Thousands of government supporters yesterday massed at the edge of Bangkok in a show of strength as Thailand's ruling party, tenuously clinging to power, warned one of the country's top courts not to overstep its boundaries.
Pro-government "red shirts" began arriving in the afternoon. By evening, their numbers had swollen, but were still far short of the 500,000 organisers had hoped for.
The mood was typically festive, but it is the closest the largely upcountry-based red shirt movement, which supports Premier Yingluck Shinawatra and her billionaire brother in exile Thaksin, has come to the capital.
For well into five months now in downtown Bangkok, the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has been mounting paralysing street protests aimed at driving the Yingluck government out of office.
This weekend's rally was called by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), an umbrella group for the red shirts.
UDD leader Jatuporn Promphan, who faces charges related to his role in the 2010 protests that turned bloody, told The Sunday Times it was a foregone conclusion that Premier Yingluck would be forced out of office by either the National Counter Corruption Commission or the Constitutional Court; both independent groups are hearing charges against her.
"This rally is a message to the people backing the PDRC to use democratic means, or else the net result will be a civil war which nobody wants because of the social and economic cost," Jatuporn said. "The UDD is sending a message not to the television set but to the people who are holding the remote control. We know the independent organisations are not independent, that's why we are here."
The UDD believes the independent groups are merely arms of the elite establishment bent on running Yingluck out of office and, more importantly, "eradicating", in the words of PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, the influence of her brother who was ousted as prime minister by the army in 2006.
Jatuporn expected the crisis to come to a head with court rulings forcing Yingluck to step down, after the Songkran water festival from April 13 to 16. This rally was a "rehearsal" for the mobilisation of the red shirts after that, he said.
At about the same time in Bangkok's Lumpini Park, where the PDRC is encamped, Suthep told the crowd to get ready for a "final battle" and that "when the day comes, we will seize the ruling power immediately".
Local media quoted him as saying: "Our words will be law. We will seize the assets of the Shinawatra family. They will need to report to us. We will appoint the prime minister of the people and submit the name to His Majesty, to be countersigned by me. (Then) we'll set up the People's Council, which will lead reform before the country can proceed with a fresh election."
At the UDD rally, one of the movement's ideologues, former human rights commissioner and political science professor Jaran Dittaapichai, told The Straits Times that "nobody knows how this will end", while playing down the prospect of civil war, saying: "That is not so easy.