Anti-government protesters rally at the Royal Plaza near
Government House in Bangkok. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Tens of thousands of Thai anti-government protesters
rallied across Bangkok on Saturday in their latest bid to
topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a day before a
crucial vote to elect a new Senate.
Waving flags and blowing whistles, protesters marched from
Lumpini Park in the business district of Bangkok, where
protesters retreated to earlier this month, toward the city's
old quarter after a brief hiatus in anti-government rallies.
"The rally has been largely peaceful and very disciplined.
Protesters are now heading back to their base in the park
after a series of symbolic ceremonies," Paradorn
Pattanathabutr, a security adviser to the prime minister,
"We expected the crowd to be around 50,000-strong but the
number of protesters doesn't look like it will exceed
A grenade exploded as protesters passed the Foreign Ministry
offices, but no one was hurt, police said. It was unclear who
was responsible for the attack.
Thailand has been in crisis since former premier Thaksin
Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was ousted in a 2006 coup.
The conflict broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class and
royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural
supporters of the Shinawatras.
Saturday's march is seen as a test of the anti-government
movement's popularity as the number of protesters has
dwindled considerably in recent weeks.
By mid-afternoon police put the crowd at around 20,000.
Around 500 protesters from the Network of Students and People
for the Reform of Thailand, a splinter group of the main
protest group, broke into the compound of Government House, a
site largely abandoned by officials.
Over the past five months, protesters have shut state offices
and disrupted a Feb. 2 election which was nullified by a
court on March 21, leaving Thailand in political limbo and
Yingluck at the head of a caretaker government with limited
Election officials have said it will take at least three
months to organise a new election.
Since the current round of protests kicked off in November,
23 people have been killed in sporadic political violence.
Protesters want political and electoral reforms before a new
general election and to rid the country of Thaksin's
"We will no longer accept this oppressive regime. They,
Thaksin and Yingluck, are no longer welcome in Thailand,"
protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters as he led
protesters who shouted "Yingluck, get out!".
Yingluck has dismissed calls by protesters to step down but
faces several legal challenges that could lead to her
removal. She has until Monday to defend herself before the
National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for dereliction of
duty over a rice-buying scheme that has run up huge losses.
If the commission recommends her impeachment, she could be
removed from office by the upper house Senate which may have
an anti-Thaksin majority after an election for half its
members on Sunday.
The vote is to elect 77 senators for the 150-seat Senate. The
rest are appointed, and a government attempt to make it a
fully elected body was one of the sparks that set off the
latest unrest in November.
The non-elected Senators are picked by judges and senior
officials from agencies such as the National Anti-Corruption
Commission (NACC), members of an establishment whom
government supporters see as viscerally anti-Thaksin.
"Red shirt" supporters of Yinguck and Thaksin are sounding
more militant under hardline new leaders and say they are
prepared to take to the streets of Bangkok as moves to
impeach Yingluck gather pace, increasing the risk of a
They plan a big rally, possibly in Bangkok, on April 5.
At the height of the current protests more than 200,000
people took to the streets to demand Yingluck's resignation.