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Updated: March 20, 2010 12:31 IST

Thai protesters begin weekend march in Bangkok

AP
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Supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra take during an anti-government rally at the northern outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand last week.
AP Supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra take during an anti-government rally at the northern outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand last week.

Protesters in more than 1,000 vehicles set off Saturday for a daylong caravan through the streets of the Thai capital, hoping to enlist residents in their “class war” against the government.

They plan to follow up the march with a “blood painting” on Sunday, the latest shock tactic by the so-called “Red Shirts” in their peaceful, weeklong campaign to oust the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

City and police officials, fearing massive traffic jams, urged residents to use public transport and either stay at home or at their workplaces until the demonstration ends.

“Please come join us, whatever colour you wear, to liberate Thailand from a class society,” a protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said on Friday evening.

The protesters want Abhisit, who they accuse of taking power through illegitimate means, to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections -- a demand he has repeatedly rejected. Abhisit has been sleeping and working from an army base for the past week to avoid demonstrators.

The protesters plan to loop their way for some 70 km through Bangkok, setting off from their encampment in the historic centre of the city and driving through the central business district, Chinatown and outlying residential areas.

The size of the protest peaked Sunday at some 100,000 demonstrators, but has decreased by about half since then.

In an attempt to dramatize their demands, thousands of Red Shirts lined up Tuesday to donate blood to their cause. Leaders claimed they collected 80 gallons (300,000 cubic centimeters) of blood that were transferred into dozens of large plastic jugs.

Most of the blood was splattered at Abhisit’s office, at the headquarters of his ruling party and at his private residence.

Protest leaders say they have 15 jugs of blood left and plan to use it to create a massive work of art.

“Artists and Red Shirts will be invited to partake in a blood painting,” Jatuporn said. They plan to unfurl a giant white cloth on which supporters will be invited to paint pictures, scrawl poems and express political statements.

“The theme of this artwork will be the history of the people’s fight for democracy,” Jatuporn said.

Protest leaders have increasingly portrayed the demonstrations that started last weekend as a struggle between Thailand’s impoverished, mainly rural masses and a Bangkok—based elite impervious to their plight.

Dusting off vocabulary last used during the era of absolute monarchy, the Red Shirts describe their struggle as one between “phrai,” the common people, and “amataya,” upper class bureaucrats and other members of the elite.

The group largely consists of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro—democracy activists who opposed the army takeover.

Thaksin, in a video link—up Friday evening, urged Bangkok residents to back the caravan.

“Fellow Bangkokians, send any kind of signals, wave a red flag, give some water, so that our Red Shirts can feel at ease,” he said.

“I apologize for the traffic congestion lately and there will be more traffic jams when we march. I apologize. I owe you one. When I return, (I promise) 10 lines of electric trains from Bangkok to the surrounding provinces,” he said.

Thakin was reportedly in Dubai, his base in exile despite Thai government efforts to have the United Arab Emirates expel him from the country.

Thaksin is popular among the rural poor for his populist policies. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.

In Bangkok, the protests have sparked a gamut of reactions from zealous support to anger at “peasants” coming in to disrupt people’s lives. A substantial number appear to be simply fed up with protests by all groups that have undermined the country’s economy and stability in recent years.

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