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Thai Red Shirts mark anniversary of protest movement

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets Friday, peacefully marking the six-month anniversary of the military's crackdown of their protest that dragged the Thai capital into chaos.

BANGKOK // Thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets Friday, peacefully marking the six-month anniversary of the military's crackdown of their protest that dragged the Thai capital into chaos.

The so-called Red Shirts massed at the same intersection - briefly blocking traffic there - where they made their final stand in the spring before heavily armed soldiers swept through and arrested top protest leaders.

More than 1,000 police turned out to provide security for the demonstration, which drew between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

Despite repression, including a state of emergency still in effect in Bangkok that allows civil liberties to be curbed, the Red Shirt movement continues to be active and is treated as a major threat by the government.

About 90 people were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded in the March-May unrest, as the protesters tried to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call early elections. They claim he came to power illegitimately, with the help of the military. Many are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup.

The protests earlier this year had been mostly peaceful until April 10, when an armed clash occurred as the military sought to drive the protesters from one stronghold. Gunmen on the side of the Red Shirts fought back and killed a high-ranking army officer, escalating the confrontation.

The gunmen continued to launch attacks and used grenade launchers on targets in the middle of the city. Several civilians were among those killed.

The authorities struck back with deadly force, and demonstrators accounted for most of the fatalities. As the army moved in, arsonists set fire to several dozen building, including a luxury shopping mall that was next to their encampment.

The Red Shirts have demanded that authorities be held accountable for the deaths among their ranks.

"I still would like to ask Abhisit Vejjajiva if he wants the country to carry on this way," Jatuporn Prompan, a key Red Shirt leader, said Friday after paying respects at a Brahmin shrine next to where the main protest stage used to be. "As long as there is no justice and the political leaders are either killed or are behind bars, the people can always rise up to fight."

Jatuporn then released a dozen of doves into the sky. A candlelight vigil was also held.

Earlier Friday, some 200 Red Shirts laid red roses in front of a Bangkok prison, where the key leaders are under detention. Another 300 visited the office of the Department of Special Investigation - Thailand's equivalent of the FBI - to ask them to speed up their probe of protest-related deaths.

Earlier this week, the DSI announced that the Red Shirts or their allies were responsible for the deaths of at least 12 people and the authorities might have been involved in causing at least six deaths.

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