BANGKOK, Thailand – Tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters from Thailand’s rural areas swarmed the Thai capital today for protests aimed at forcing the government to dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
Protest leaders gave the government until noon local time to accede to their demands or face mass marches on key locations in Bangkok.
The demonstrators, popularly known as the Red Shirts, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call new elections, which they believe will allow their political allies to regain power. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional Thai ruling class who were jealous and fearful of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s popularity while in office from 2001 until he was ousted in a 2006 coup.
In his weekly radio address today, Abhisit indicated he had no plans to dissolve Parliament.
“Dissolution and call for resignations are normal in a democratic system. But we have to make sure the dissolution of Parliament will solve the problem and won’t make the next election troublesome,” he said.
He also denied rumors that a military coup was possible and said he would not impose a state of emergency that would give the army broad powers to deal with the protests.
Traffic in Bangkok was light, businesses were shuttered and social events canceled as many feared the four-day demonstrations, which officially began today but have been building for two days as caravans of protesters pour in from the north and northeast, would repeat past violence. But protesters stressed they would use only peaceful means in their quest for new elections.