Nearly 10,000 supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra rallied in Bangkok on Saturday, calling for the current premier to step down - the latest demonstration in the kingdom since Thaksin's ouster in a 2006 coup. Police mobilized 3,000 security officers and warned the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship - also known as the "red shirts" - not to block the office of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as it did for several weeks in March and April. "If the red shirts mobilize to the Government House, we will coordinate with the military ... who will aid us with some 1,600 military officers and we will have 1,300 more police officers as backup," Bangkok Metropolitan Police spokesman Gen. Suporn Pansuea said.
The UDD is calling for Abhisit to step down, the dissolution of parliament, and new elections. The rally at Sanam Luang field in central Bangkok was expected to go through the night. By early evening, as many as 10,000 supporters had gathered on muddy field amid sporadic downpours. Security was light as protesters sang songs and listened to fiery speeches.
Thaksin, who remains in self-imposed exile since he was convicted on a corruption charge last year, is expected to address the crowd via telephone link. He remains hugely popular among the red shirts, who are largely drawn from Thailand's impoverished countryside, for his populist policies.
Nutthawut Saikua, a leader of the UDD, said their demands haven't changed since the military forced them to end demonstrations in April following days of street clashes and riots that left at least two dead and more than 120 injured.
"We rally today because we want to get rid of the government, the aristocracy and bring back true democracy to the people," Nutthawut told The Associated Press. "We demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resign and dissolves the (parliament) because the government is not democratic."
Protest leaders accuse the country's elite - the military, judiciary and other unelected officials - of undermining the country's democracy and orchestrating the 2006 coup. Following his ouster, Thaksin's party again won elections and his allies formed two successive governments - both of which were stymied by the same "yellow shirt" protests that precipitated the coup.
The yellow shirts argue that voters in Thaksin's rural base are too easily bought, and when they took to the streets last year - demanding Thaksin's allies relinquish power - they created havoc, shutting down Bangkok's two main airports for a week. When a court disqualified the pro-Thaksin prime minister on complaints of fraud in the 2007 election, ending the yellow shirts' demonstrations, Abhisit cobbled together a coalition. But the red shirts responded by launching their own protest in March. They backed down under threat of a military crackdown after their demonstrations became violent.