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February 1, 2009

Thailand: Red-shirts rally anew to topple government
Some 30,000 Thais joined a rally Saturday evening in Bangkok with the aim of unseating the one-month-old government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Kyodo news agency reported that the red-shirted protesters, members of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship who support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, began their first large-scale protest of the year at an open field in front of the Grand Palace.

The protesters began moving late in the evening toward the Government House compound where the Prime Minister's Office is located, though the prime minister himself is abroad, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

According to local media, as many as 5,250 policemen were deployed around the original rally site and along the avenue leading to Government House, while as many as 1,760 soldiers are on standby, some of them stationed in the compound of Government House.

Live TV footage showed riot police setting up several layers of metal barriers to prevent protesters from approaching Government House. Jatuporn Phromphan, a UDD leader, warned that protesters will fight back if authorities resort to violence against them, turning Government House into a battlefield.

But Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters that no tear gas would be used and the authorities have been told not to resort to violence. Jatuporn said Abhisit has 15 days to give into the UDD's demands, which include dissolution of the House of Representatives to pave the way for a new general election.

The demands also include dismissal of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for having participated in last November's siege of Bangkok's two main airports by anti-Thaksin protesters under the banner of the People's Alliance for Democracy, and prosecution of those who participated in that action.

Jatuporn is a member of parliament from the Puea Thai Party, the latest incarnation of Thaksin's now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party. Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and his party was dissolved by a court order in 2007 after being convicted of electoral fraud.

The People Power Party, consisting of politicians loyal to the disgraced ex-premier, won the post-coup general election in late 2007 but it too was dissolved by a court order last December after one of its executives was convicted of vote-buying.

Last year, members of the anti-Thaksin PAD movement held six months of protests against PPP-led governments led by premiers who they alleged were proxies of Thaksin, who is now living abroad as a fugitive from justice.
The yellow-shirted PAD protesters occupied a road near Government House for three months before moving into the compound and occupying it for three months.

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