03/13/2010, 00.00
THAILAND

Bangkok, thousands of "red shirts" on the streets to demand fresh elections

Supporters of former premier Thaksin, led by the opposition party United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), arrive in the capital ahead of tomorrow’s demonstration. They brand as "illegitimate" the current government headed by Abhisit, who came to power through a coup by the military. For the moment no problem in public order.

Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) - reached Bangkok to attend the public demonstration scheduled for tomorrow. The protesters are calling for new elections and the return of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai billionaire and former Prime Minister, in exile after being sentenced to two years for corruption. At least 40 thousand police are patrolling the streets to prevent possible accidents, although at the moment, there are no reports of public order.  

Organizers confirm that the street demonstrations are of a "peaceful" nature demonstrator’s hold out roses to the policemen and the authorities are trying in every way to avoid possible clashes. Banks have closed their ATMs in some areas of the capital, including Ratchadamnoen Nai Street. Yesterday, schools and offices closed early, to avoid the congesting traffic in the main streets of Bangkok.  

The government has deployed a larger number of soldiers throughout the capital. A part of the executive has also called for the application of the Internal Security Act, which assigns "extra" powers to the army, including the imposition of curfew and a restriction on mass gatherings. In April 2009, a massive public demonstration of the "red shirts" in Bangkok degenerated into riots and violence which caused two deaths; at least 120 injured and burned buses on the edge of roads.  

Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva confirms that the situation in the capital is "normal." The level of alert, however, is still high and the public security and safety centre is closely monitoring the situation. The Prime Minister has asked all parties to do everything possible to "avoid all forms of violence."

The "red shirts" have taken to the streets demanding new elections, believing they can return to power after the military coup in 2006 that led to the ouster of then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They argue that the current Government of Prime Minister Abhisit that took office in December 2008, is "illegitimate" and is based on the support of the military leadership of the country.  

For four years, Thaksin Shinawatra has lived in exile in London and Dubai. He was recently ordered to return 46 of the 76 billion baht (about 1.7 billion euros) which - according to the judges - are the result of "abuse of power, concealment of assets and public tax fraud" made while he held the post of prime minister.

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