Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Bangkok for massive anti- and pro-government rallies. The mass demonstrations are the largest Thailand has seen in three years.
Organizers estimated that by Sunday evening the crowd had grown closer to 400,000 people, many of whom came from the south, where the opposition Democratic Party enjoys strong support.
On the other side of the city, around 50,000 pro-government “Red Shirts” gathered at a suburban football stadium in a show of support for Yingluck, the younger sister of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Supporters and opponents of Thaksin have been in a power struggle ever since he was ousted in a 2006 military coup amid accusations of corruption and disrespect for Thailand’s constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin has lived in a self-imposed exile the past five years to avoid a prison sentence for a corruption conviction.
Yingluck’s Pheu Thai administration was democratically elected two years ago after a bloody military crackdown on mass Red Shirt protests in 2010 that killed scores of people. However, her detractors accuse her of using her power to further the interest of Thaksin and his associates, a claim she denies.
The latest round of protests was triggered last month by a government-backed bill granting amnesty to Thaksin. Observers have warned the protests, which forced the government to temporarily abandon the amnesty bill, could lead to renewed violence between the two sides.
Speaking to the anti-government crowd, Suthep urged the protesters to continue marching to 12 different locations around the city on Monday, key army, navy and police bases and several TV stations.
“We will ask them whether they serve Thaksin, his system, and Yingluck … or if they stand with the people,” he said. “We will not stop fighting until the Thaksin system is gone from Thailand.”
Suthep, who had pledged to draw one million protesters out to the streets by Sunday night, added that Monday’s marches would be peaceful and law-abiding.
Thailand has seen 18 coups since shifted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
dr/mz (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)