Embattled Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva on Thursday refused to resign, urging protesters massing for a second day in Bangkok not to be manipulated by ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
More than 100,000 demonstrators gathered in the capital on Wednesday where they surrounded the residence of a key royal aide whom they accuse of orchestrating the military coup that toppled Thaksin in 2006.
Police said about 25,000 protesters were left early Thursday, camped outside the house of Prem Tinsulanonda, the top adviser to the king, as well as at Abhisit's office and Bangkok's Royal Plaza. "It's not right to yield to a group that is making a loud noise or using force," Abhisit told a local television station.
"I don't think that if the government complies with their demands our country will return to peace." The protesters known as "Red Shirts" have issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the resignation of Prem and two other members of the privy council, and have also called for Abhisit to step down and hold fresh elections. But the British-born prime minister said the protest leaders' demands were "very confused and unclear."
"Protesters should not criticise or drag privy councillors into it. That's not reasonable," he said. Former prime minister Thaksin, who is living in exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, thanked his supporters in a speech delivered via videolink after nightfall.
"I want to congratulate the entire Thai nation. We are gathering here because we are thirsty for real democracy," Thaksin said. Abhisit said that the demonstrators were effectively being used by the fugitive ex-premier.
"Protesters should not fall victim to people who want to escape conviction. They should not rally in disguise for just one person who will not have to take responsibility," he said. "His (Thaksin's) family are all out of the country," he said.
Thaksin's "Red Shirts" remain furious about the way Abhisit took power in December following a court decision that removed Thaksin's allies from government. That ruling came after months of protests by rival protesters claiming allegiance to the monarchy, who occupied Government House and mounted a crippling blockade of Bangkok's airports.
The nation remains deeply divided between Thaksin's followers among the urban and rural poor and his foes in Bangkok's traditional power centres of the palace, military and bureaucracy.