Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra lamented that he was “really lonely” in self-imposed exile and urged thousands of cheering supporters to help him return to Thailand “to serve the public” in one of the country’s largest demonstrations in months.
More than 30,000 supporters stood in heavy rains in Bangkok on Saturday to hear the media tycoon, who addressed the crowd via telephone link from what he said was an undisclosed location near the Thai border.
The rally ended peacefully early yesterday.
The enthusiastic reception — more than two months after deadly clashes in the capital between his rural-based “red-shirt” supporters and security forces — underscored Thaksin’s continuing political clout.
Protest leaders said they were continuing to call for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s resignation, the dissolution of parliament and new elections — demands the government has repeatedly rejected.
“We come here because we want to see true democracy,” Thaksin told the crowd, gathered on the soggy Sanam Luang field in central Bangkok. “We loathe injustice. We loathe double standards. We’re here to say if you want us to stop, then return justice and true democracy.”
Thaksin serenaded the crowd with a song that included the line “Don’t leave me in Dubai” — a reference to one of the cities he has called home since he fled into exile last year after being convicted of corruption.
“I want to go back to live in a country blessed by the royal patronage of his majesty,” he said, referring to Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. “Those who stabbed me in the back, don’t worry. I’ve already forgiven you.”
The protesters accuse the country’s elite — the military, judiciary and other unelected officials — of undermining the country’s democracy and orchestrating a 2006 coup in which Thaksin was ousted.
Fearing violence, police mobilized 3,000 security officers and warned the protesters not to block Abhisit’s office, as they did for several weeks in March and April. The subsequent unrest left at least two dead and more than 120 injured.
But protest leaders said they had no plans to march to Government House. They are, however, planning more rallies although no dates have been set.
“We want to overthrow the government which has been set up by the establishment,” protest leader Jatuporn Phromphan told the crowd. “We want the dissolution of parliament. We will insist on our demands no matter how long it takes.”
Thaksin’s allies remained in power after the coup, but anti-Thaksin “yellow shirt” protesters took to the streets last year, shuttering Bangkok’s two main airports and building pressure to force them from office. They contend that voters in Thaksin’s rural base are too easily bought.
A court later disqualified the pro-Thaksin prime minister on complaints of fraud in a 2007 election. Abhisit then cobbled together a coalition to form the current government.