GROWING: Red shirt demonstrators pack Ratchadamnoen Avenue to hear speeches by their leaders from a stage at Phan Fa Bridge last night. Police estimated that about 80,000 red shirts were present.
- Published: 14/03/2010 at 12:00 AM
The countdown for the showdown between the red shirts and the government will start today when the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) gives Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva an ultimatum to dissolve the House.
If the deadline fails, the UDD will up the pressure by spreading their protests within a 20-kilometre radius of their main site on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, said one of its leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, who was confident that victory would be achieved within one week.
Government House, the Si Sao Thewes residence of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, the parliament and Suvarnabhumi airport will not be the targets, according to the UDD.
One of its rallies is planned at the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen district, which houses the peacekeeping operation command.
- Also see: Three scenarios for violence
At noon on Sunday, key UDD leaders will spell out their deadline for the government to accept their demands.
Supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from the provinces converged on Ratchadamnoen Avenue last night where a stage has been set up at Phan Fa Bridge.
Pol Maj Gen Prawut Thavornsiri of the Royal Thai Police estimated the number of demonstrators at the bridge at no more than 80,000 last night. But more are expected to come today, including some who will arrive in Bangkok by boat. Sources at the peacekeeping operation command believe the number of protesters will reach 100,000 or more today.
In a bid to ease growing tension between the UDD and security forces, Korbsak Sabhavasu, secretary to the prime minister, talked with leading UDD figure Weng Tojirakarn yesterday and said the government was ready to reduce the number of troops at the rally site by putting more police on duty.
An intelligence source said the government was considering invoking emergency law if the situation gets out of control.
The peacekeeping operation command at the 11th Infantry Regiment could be moved to the Supreme Command headquarters if protesters block the military compound in Bang Khen, the source added. Mr Abhisit thanked all parties for keeping the arrival of the demonstrators and their demonstration peaceful and promised the government was trying to ensure it would continue in an orderly way.
The prime minister urged demonstrators to cooperate with government officials for their own safety and prevent any party from starting unrest.
He urged people to inform security staff if they see anyone dressing like police or soldiers and carrying arms among the demonstrators.
"Government officials will not fight anyone but will maintain order," he said, and denied plans to attack demonstration leaders or supporters.
"We respect constitutional rights. If people exercise constitutional rights, we cannot end their legitimate movements. But if the boundaries of the demonstration under the constitution are breached, provoking violence or legal violations, then we must do our duty by taking legal action to maintain order," said Mr Abhisit.
Thaksin yesterday told his supporters to stay put as the rally to topple the government would be a long one.
In a surprise 10-minute phone-in to the UDD's main stage, Thaksin thanked the demonstrators for joining the calls for justice and fighting against the elite bureaucracy, or amataya.
"The more you come out, the more I want to fight. I'm so grateful to all of you and I'll go back [to Thailand] to pay you back," he said while calling for unity and patience from his followers.
He also attacked the Democrat Party-led government, telling the cheering crowd: "They came to power with the help of the coup-makers and the amataya."
Yesterday red shirt supporters from the North and Northeast travelled in pick-up trucks, vans, buses and big trucks to the capital.
Police and troops searched all vehicles for weapons and demanded demonstrators show their ID cards before letting the convoys move on. Red shirt demonstrators cooperated with authorities.
Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the army spokesman, said security authorities decided to compromise by letting red-clad demonstrators travel in their vehicles to Bangkok to prevent traffic congestion resulting from confrontations between the demonstrators and ordinary motorists.
Three red shirts in Pathum Thani were sent to hospital yesterday, the Emergency Medical Institute of Thailand reported.
The three cases included two injuries caused by brawling and one person who passed out due to dehydration and heat when the rally started on Friday, said Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanavisit.
Mr Jurin, who also chairs the medical and public health centre dealing with unexpected emergencies during the rally, said the centre still categorised the rally at level three, which means the number of red shirt supporters in the city was expected to be more than 50,000 and that the situation could be severe.
Hospitals in the city and neighbouring areas were fully prepared and on high alert for emergencies, he said.
Mr Jurin, however, called on parents to avoid bringing their children to the rally site. Any outbreak of violence could affect their mental health in the long term, he said.