Thousands of red-shirted anti-government protesters have converged on the Thai capital, giving the government an ultimatum to dissolve Parliament or face mass marches on key spots in the city. Although protest leaders stressed they would not resort to violence in their quest to oust the government, many businesses closed down, social events were canceled and Bangkok's normally chaotic traffic was unusually light.
A force of 50,000 soldiers, police and other security personnel was mobilised in the capital area. A protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said he expected a million people to gather by noon on Sunday, when the demonstration formally begins. "If the prime minister refuses to dissolve Parliament on Sunday, we will declare new measures. We are planning to march to key spots belonging to those in power," he said. He ruled out action, however, at the Parliament building or Government House.
The "million-man march", which Mr Jatuporn said would end Wednesday, is regarded by some as the last chance for the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand. The "Red Shirt" protesters, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, are made up of followers of Thaksin, along with other people who oppose the 2006 military coup that toppled him. Forcing the government out of power, Thaksin loyalists say, could pave the way for his pardon and return.
Thaksin faces a two-year prison term for abuse of power. Thousands of protesters arrived in the sprawling capital today after travelling in trucks, buses and motorcycles from the Thaksin heartland - the impoverished rural northeast and the north, where the fugitive leader was born. *AP