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February 24, 2009

Thailand: Pro-Thaksin red-shirts rally ahead of Asean Summit

Thousands of supporters of Thailand's ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in Bangkok on Tuesday, preparing to surround the seat of government just days ahead of a major regional summit.

The red-shirted protesters want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to hold fresh elections and meet other demands. Abhisit came to power in December after a court dissolved the previous, pro-Thaksin government, reported AFP.

Police said around 8,000 demonstrators had gathered at a central Bangkok parade ground ahead of their planned march on Government House. Hundreds of riot police and soldiers stood guard outside the building.

"We will march peacefully and I don't expect any clashes," core protest leader Jatuporn Prompan said. "We will not occupy Government House but we will evaluate how long we stay outside on a daily basis."

The rally has already forced Abhisit to move his weekly cabinet meeting, due later Tuesday, to the beach resort of Hua Hin, where he will host a summit of Southeast Asian leaders starting from on Friday.

Abhisit said he was confident security forces would handle the rally peacefully and insisted that he would go to work at Government House on Wednesday as usual.

"No, I don't worry at all," Abhisit told reporters as he arrived at his hotel in Hua Hin.

The other demands of the so-called "Red Shirts" include the sacking of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya because of his links to the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement.

The yellow-clad PAD occupied Government House for around three months last year and seized control of Bangkok's two airports for a week in November-December.

They ended the sieges in December when the court dissolved the Thaksin-linked ruling party, paving the way for Democrat Party leader Abhisit to take power in a parliamentary vote.

The red-shirts also want the return of the 1997 constitution, which was replaced by a new constitution following the 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin, and the speeding up of prosecutions against PAD leaders.

Jatuporn said the protesters would not obstruct the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit. "Our activities will be only in Bangkok," he said.

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