'Red Shirts' in mass Bangkok rally
Sunday 20 May 2012, 09:33PM
It was one of the largest mobilisations of the mainly rural and working-class Red Shirts since 2010 protests in support of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra descended into the kingdom's worst violence in decades.
Police blocked traffic at the Ratchaprasong intersection, one of Bangkok's busiest junctions, as Red Shirts arrived in coaches laid on by the movement.
The crowd defied downpours to watch a live video link from Thaksin, who reiterated his call for reconciliation between the arch royalist and nationalist Yellow Shirts, the Red Shirts and several smaller factions whose rivalry has divided Thailand since 2005.
"Today we should set aside prejudice and turn toward each other to keep all key institutions in place -- especially monarchy which unifies of all Thai hearts," said Thaksin, who lives overseas to avoid arrest in Thailand.
Red Shirt leaders had said between 100,000 and 200,000 people would attend the rally, which began with Buddhist prayers for those killed in the 2010 unrest and will end early Sunday.
More than 90 people, mostly civilians, died in the 2010 violence, which marked the culmination of a series of rival protests since a 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin.
The Red Shirts have called on the new government, led by Thaksin's sister Yingluck, to prosecute soldiers and officials responsible for causing the deaths and injuries, many to unarmed demonstrators.
So far no cases have been brought in connection with the violence and Yingluck's government has raised the prospect of an amnesty for those involved, prompting an outcry from human rights groups.
Earlier Red Shirt leader Thida Thavornseth stood on the stage -- framed by a banner proclaiming "Our friends must not die in vain" -- and thanked the crowd for coming.
"Your numbers are a testament to the fact that our movement still exists and is getting stronger and stronger," she said.
The city's vast Central World shopping mall, which was set alight in the chaotic and bloody endgame to the 2010 protests, closed early as the crowd packed into the courtyard outside waiting for Thaksin's address.
"We love him," said Sunan Chansinng, who made the two-hour trip from Pattaya for the rally. "He cares about the poor and nobody else does in Thailand."