BANGKOK, 24 Feb 2009: Thousands of anti-government supporters, clad in red shirts, began their march in the capital today to demand the ouster of the foreign minister and the dissolution of parliament as Thailand prepares to host the delayed 14th Asean Summit in Hua Hin this week.
The Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) supporters, linked to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have since last night gathered at Sanam Luang near the Grand Palace to walk several kilometres to the country’s seat of administration at the Government House.
Hundreds of riot police, backed by soldiers, are guarding the Government House and key ministries, including the foreign ministry as authorities fear that the group would seize them.
If that happens, it would be similar to the seizure of the Government House and Bangkok’s two major airports last year by the rival yellow shirts under the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in December after Thaksin’s allies were banned by the Constitution Court, moved the weekly cabinet meeting to Hua Hin, about two hours drive from the capital to avoid the protestors.
A DAAD leader, Jatuporn Promphan said the protestors, armed with red foot-clappers, would not storm the Government House but planned to stay around the compound for several days.
Another activist with DAAD, who coordinates media relations, said the red shirts would not be mobilised to Hua Hin to disrupt the summit, but a small group of members and professionals “would certainly be there” to show to the world that Abhisit’s government was not legitimate.
Leaders from the 10-member Asean will began arriving in Hua Hin on Friday to attend the summit.
Among the key demands of the red shirts is the sacking of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, a former career diplomat and prominent PAD member.
Kasit had told a radio station yesterday that he would resign if police charged him in court along with 20 other PAD leaders for leading the protests and the three-month seizure of the Government House, as well as the blockade of the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports that left over 350,000 people stranded.
The Asean Summit was initially scheduled in Bangkok and then Chiang Mai last December, but the airport closure forced it to be delayed until this month.
Besides the red shirt protestors, Bangkok has been under siege by thousands of farmers for the past few days.
The farmers are demanding that the government set aside more funds to solve their debts, as well as provide subsidies to prop up the prices of agricultural products. — Bernama