'Red shirts' protest in Thailand

 

Thousands of anti-government 'red shirt' protesters rallied in the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya today to demand the release of their leaders and scores of comrades detained since bloody protests earlier this year.

Thousands of anti-government red shirt protesters rallied in the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya today to demand the release of their leaders and scores of comrades detained since bloody protests earlier this year.

Witnesses estimated a crowd of 10,000 people had assembled in the town, 76km north of Bangkok, for the group's third big rally since September 19th and the latest sign of its revival since a military crackdown in May.

Hundreds of police were deployed near a football stadium where the main rally was taking place.

"We don't have leaders today. We are here on our own, the CRES can't arrest us," one speaker said from a makeshift stage, referring to the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation set up to coordinate the authorities' handling of the Bangkok protests.

The capital, unlike Ayutthaya, is still under a state of emergency after 10 weeks of paralysing protests in April and May that ended with 91 people killed and nearly 2,000 injured. Political gatherings are banned under the emergency.

Some 2,400 troops and police were reported to have been deployed in Bangkok earlier as the red shirts had threatened to hold a "mobile rally", with supporters riding around town before heading up to Ayutthaya. No incidents were reported.

The red shirts are demanding that those behind the deaths in April and May be brought to justice. The authorities accuse the red shirt leaders of terrorism for the deaths and rioting.

Red shirt supporters in the crowd in Ayutthaya called for an amnesty for their leaders, detained without trial since May.

Analysts say the revival of the red shirts and the vacuum in its leadership raise the risk of deepening a violent, five-year political crisis.

The government is concerned that radicals could emerge from within the movement to create unrest, pointing to a recent deadly blast in a suburban Bangkok apartment rented by an activist, which was packed with bomb-making material.

The Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent of the FBI in the United States, said last week that 11 men held under witness protection and allied with the red shirts had confessed to a plot to assassinate ministers.