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NEWS UPDATES 2 April 2010

Thai 'Red Shirts' under pressure to end protests

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Thailand's "Red Shirt" protesters remained defiant Thursday in the face of mounting pressure from the battered tourism industry to end mass demonstrations seeking to topple the government, reported AFP.

The Red Shirts have vowed to stage their biggest rally on Saturday since their latest round of protests began with more than 100,000 supporters on March 14, but the army has predicted a low turnout as rural demonstrators go home.

Tourist industry workers plan their own peaceful rallies Friday which they expect to draw about 1,000 people seeking an end to the action by supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra seeking snap polls.

The demonstrations planned for Bangkok and other top tourist destinations including Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket reflect deepening concern about the impact of political turmoil on the vital tourism sector.

"We don't want to create mob against mob, but we want the political sector to hear our voice," said Charoen Wangananont, president of Thai Travel Agent Association.

In another rally against the mass protests, faculty members of Chulalongkorn University plan to dress in pink and gather in a show of anti-violence, also on Friday.

The tourism industry has suffered billions of dollars of financial losses in the past few years because of political unrest and foreign visitor arrivals are down 20-30 percent from last year, according to sector officials.

"More than two million Thais work in the tourism industry including hotels, spas, car rental, restaurants," Charoen told AFP.

"In recent years these people, as well as the industry, have suffered greatly due to the actions of our own people."

But Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan rejected the estimated financial losses as over-exaggerated and rounded on the tourism chiefs, saying they were allied to the current government.

Jatuporn reiterated that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's offer to call elections by the end of the year, one year ahead of schedule, would not be enough to bring the Red Shirts back to the negotiating table.

The Reds have staged a series of dramatic stunts to press their demand in recent weeks, including throwing their own blood at Abhisit's offices.

The army predicted that fewer people would attend the planned rally by Red Shirts on Saturday compared with the past two weekends.

About 65,000 people joined a city parade on Saturday 20, while more than 80,000 turned out on Saturday 27 when protesters chased soldiers out from non-political buildings such as temples and a zoo.

"The government is not worried about the number of protesters," said army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd.

The military has mounted a massive security operation for the demonstrations, which began after a court ruling that seized 1.4 billion dollars of Thaksin's fortune.

The Red Shirts love the populist Thaksin and despise Abhisit, whom they accuse of being elitist and in the pocket of the country's powerful military establishment. Thaksin lives abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a jail term for graft.


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