Thai Protesters Parade Dead

The Reds vowed to press on with their bid to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva following weekend clashes in Bangkok which left 21 people dead and more than 800 injured.

A stream of cars, pick-up trucks and taxis filled with Red Shirts gathered at their main rally site in the historic district of Bangkok before beginning a procession through the capital with their fallen comrades.

Thailand has been in turmoil for weeks but the protesters say they will not end their campaign until the government dissolves parliament and calls fresh elections, despite the deaths of 17 civilians and four soldiers on Saturday.

“We want people in Bangkok to know what happened to the Red Shirts because the government and the army control the news,” said Chakkricth Kadeeluck, a 34-year-old watch seller from Chonburi, east of the capital.

“The Red Shirts want the people to know the truth.”

The demonstrators are calling for Abhisit to step down and leave the country, saying there is no point in further negotiations with the government.

“What else is there to talk about?” said Reds leader Jatuporn Prompan.

October election ruled out

Abhisit offered last month to hold elections by the end of 2010 – one year ahead of schedule – to end the stand-off with the Reds, but protest leaders rejected the proposal.

The government also played down local media reports on Monday that Abhisit might offer to bring forward the polls to October.

“There was no talk of elections in October yet,” government spokesperson Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

The Reds, whose base is drawn from the poorest sections of society, mostly support fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, hailing his policies for the masses such as cheap healthcare.

Thousands of Reds, who accuse the current government of being elitist and army-backed, remain on the streets at the two main protest sites as part of rallies that have dealt a heavy blow to the country’s vital tourist sector.

It is the latest chapter in years of turmoil pitting the ruling elite against the mainly poor and rural Reds, who say the government is illegitimate as it came to power in 2008 after a court ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.

The country has been riven by political tensions since a bloodless coup ousted telecoms tycoon-turned-premier Thaksin in 2006.

Shaken tourists have been seen packing up and leaving the capital after the violent clashes erupted close to the city’s main backpacker strip on the Khaosan Road, leaving a trail of destruction.

Probe into violence

Saturday’s violence erupted when troops tried to clear one of two sites in the centre of the capital occupied by the protesters for the past month.

Soldiers fired in the air and used tear gas while the Reds responded by hurling rocks.

As the clashes intensified, gunshots echoed around the city and both sides accused the other of using live ammunition. Emergency services said two protesters were killed by gunshot wounds to the head.

The army later retreated, calling for a truce with the demonstrators. One group of soldiers was taken hostage by the Reds but police said on Sunday they had been released.

The government said an investigation had been launched into the violence and that negotiations were under way to bring about a resolution to the stand-off without further unrest.

On Sunday, the Reds gathered for a small ceremony at the city’s Democracy Monument – the scene of a fierce battle on Saturday – where grieving relatives led a procession holding gold-framed pictures of the dead.

Thai flags, red roses and incense sticks were placed on pools of blood where protesters were killed or wounded in the Khaosan Road backpacker district. – SAPA