Thai protesters move on Bangkok Army base to topple government
Tens of thousands of protesters launched a car convoy on the Thai government's peace-keeping command headquarters in Bangkok in an effort to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and call for new elections.
Over the weekend the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also called the red shirts for their colour preference, drew an estimated 100,000 supporters from the provinces to Bangkok for a demonstration aimed at toppling the current "elitist" government, and paving the way for a political comeback for ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, dpa reported.
UDD leaders, addressing their followers at Rajdamnoen Avenue in the old part of Bangkok, on Sunday gave Abhisit a 24-hour ultimatum to meet their demands for his resignation, dissolve parliament and call for new elections or they would march through the city.
Abhisit on Sunday night rejected the UDD's demands, saying an election at this stage would solve nothing.
At 9:00 am, three hours before the expiration of their deadline, the red shirts joined a convoy of some 2,000 pickup trucks and cars that they had parked on Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue to drive to their first target, the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkok's Bang Khen district, where the government has set up its "peace-keeping" command centre.
Abhisit and other key security decision-makers such as Army Commander-in-Chief Geenral Anupong Paochinda and Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, are believed to be at the command base.
The protesters will have to drive to Victory Monument and up Phaholyothin Road to get to Bang Khen, bringing Monday morning traffic to a standstill on some of Bangkok's most congested roads.
Luckily for commuters, the mass protest, has fallen far short of the "million man march" that the UDD had promised last week.
The demonstrations have so far been non-violent.
The government has placed Bangkok and seven surrounding provinces under the Internal Security Act between March 11-23, empowering authorities to prohibit protests in sensitive areas and arrest perpetrators of violence for up to a year.
The government has a 35,000-strong joint police and Army force on hand in Bangkok with another 46,000 civilian volunteers available if things get hectic.
Another 8,000 soldiers were brought in to the capital Sunday night, according to the Bangkok Post.
Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, is the de facto leader of the UDD and the Puea Thai opposition party.
He continues to hold sway over millions of the country's urban and rural poor and also enjoys support from a broad spectrum of Thai society intent on changing the status quo.
"We love Thaksin," said Nanaphat Tanapitchwichit, 41, an unemployed former street vendor from Chon Buri province. "Thaksin is clever. All Abhisit can do is talk and talk. He can't solve our economic problems."
Thaksin has been living in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai, since August 2008 to avoid a two-year jail sentence on abuse-of-power charges.
According to the Thai Foreign Ministry, the United Arab Emirates asked him to leave Dubai over the weekend for using the country as a political base. Thaksin said he was going to Europe, but his whereabouts remain unknown.
Thaksin's political and financial fortunes have arguably reached a nadir this year.
The Supreme Court for Political Office Holders on February 26 found Thaksin guilty of abuse of power and ordered the seizure of 1.4 billion of the 2.3 billion dollars in frozen bank assets belonging to Thaksin and his family.
The former telecommunications tycoon on Sunday night delivered a phone-in message to his supporters gathered at Rajdamnoen Avenue, urging them to struggle for political change and blaming the Bangkok- based political elite for his misfortunes.
"The ammat (bureaucratic elite) are the country's problem. They are behind all the rumours so that they can continue to maintain their power," he said.
It is widely understood that Thaksin, despite his diminished fortune, remains one of the main financiers of the UDD, which needs an estimated 30 million baht (909,000 dollars) per 100,000 protestors to feed and transport them for the protests.
Many shops, offices and schools were closed in Bangkok Monday in anticipation of traffic and possible violence.