Thousands of protesters hold their fourth weekend demonstration in Bangkok to force the prime minister to dissolve parliament.
Protesters rally to oust Thailand's government
BANGKOK // Thousands of anti-government protesters launched their fourth weekend demonstration in the Thai capital today, groping for tactics that have yet to force the prime minister to dissolve parliament and call new elections. The mainly poor, rural Thais that make up the so-called Red Shirts were concentrating their Saturday protests in the heart of commercial Bangkok, studded with glitzy shopping malls and upscale hotels. They have failed to oust the government of the prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva through both mass peaceful marches and talks with government leaders. Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said the demonstration would continue through to Monday. He said: "Today's another day when commoners will declare war to bring democracy to the country. There is no end until we win this battle." Department stores, normally bursting with weekend shoppers, as well as office buildings were closed for security reasons as some 10,000 protesters gathered in the area, according to Metropolitan Police spokesman Piya Utayo. He said the total number of demonstrators, including those in other parts of the city and on the move, peaked at nearly 55,000. Protesters swarmed around a Porsche car, angrily smashing its windows after its driver bulldozed a line of stationary motorcycles the group had parked. His motive was not known. Riot police guarding the InterContinental Hotel said the luxury vehicle finally hit a fire hydrant, and the driver battled through a group of demonstrators before police intervened and took him into the hotel. Police found a handgun in the car. "This is just what's wrong with this country. A rich man can drive into protesters and get away," said Sakda, a factory worker from suburban Bangkok. He declined to give his full name. The Red Shirt movement - known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship - consists largely of supporters of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed a 2006 military coup, which ousted him. His allies won elections in December 2007, but two resulting governments were forced out by court rulings. A parliamentary vote brought Abhisit Vejjajiva's party to power in December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy. Abhisit Vejjajiva must call a new election by the end of 2011, and many believe Thaksin's allies are likely to win - which could spark new protests by his opponents. Residents of the sprawling Thai capital are divided in their view of the Red Shirts, and some are merely fed up about the loss of business, especially in tourism, and traffic jams the demonstrations have caused. The protesters, whose numbers have at times swelled to some 100,000, have received support from lower middle-class residents, many of them migrants from rural areas, and are detested by many in professional, business and senior government ranks. However, some in the middle and upper classes have expressed sympathy for the Red Shirts demands for a better economic deal and an end to inequalities in Thai society, but do not support the movement outright because Thaksin is its key shadow leader. The multimillionaire was convicted of corruption and abuse of power and is a fugitive. *AP