Hundreds of Thai protesters yesterday gathered in Bangkok to rally against the government and divisive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra amid worries over the potential for fresh unrest in the politically turbulent country.
Brandishing Thai national flags as well as the yellow emblem of the country’s monarchy, demonstrators milled around restaurant carts and memorabilia stalls set up at the protest site in a central Bangkok park.
Organizers of the self-styled “People’s Army” rally — a coalition of ultra-royalist and nationalist groups — addressed the crowd from a stage, calling for the end of the current government and slamming its self-exiled Thaksin.
“It is time for Thai people who love the country to unite and become a people’s army to overthrow the Thaksin regime,” one of the group’s key leaders, retired general Preecha Iamsuwan, told the rally.
Despite initial concerns over the potential for unrest in Bangkok, which has suffered several bouts of political violence in recent years, security forces kept a low profile at the event. Police, who have said they are authorized to use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets if violence erupts, put the number of demonstrators at 1,500 with up to 4,000 expected by late yesterday.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, on Saturday expressed “worry that the rally could lead to violence.”
The government has already invoked a special security law to control the protests, which could go on for several days.
Thailand has been riven by political tensions since the overthrow of Thaksin, who lives abroad, but still draws loyalty among the kingdom’s poor, rural working class.
Mass demonstrations have become a recurrent feature of Thailand’s politics in recent years, with ultra-royalist nationalist Yellow Shirts and their pro-Thaksin Red Shirt foes taking to the streets.
Yesterday’s protesters were targeting a government-backed bill, due to enter parliament on Wednesday, which proposes an amnesty for those involved in political violence since the coup that toppled Thaksin nearly seven years ago.