sands of anti-government protesters launched their fourth weekend march in the streets of the Thai capital on Saturday, groping for tactics that have yet to force the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
The mainly poor, rural Thais that make up the so-called Red Shirts were concentrating their Saturday protests in the heart of commercial Bangkok, studded with glitzy shopping malls and upscale hotels. They previously have failed to oust the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva through both mass peaceful marches and talks with government leaders.
Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said the demonstration would continue through Monday and that Saturdays rally would be brief.
Todays another day when commoners will declare war to bring democracy to the country. There is no end until we win this battle, he said as marchers made their way toward the shopping zone, beating drums and chanting Dissolve Parliament.
The Red Shirt movement known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship consists largely of supporters of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed a 2006 military coup which ousted Mr. Thaksin.
Protest leaders have portrayed the demonstrations as a struggle between Thailands impoverished, mainly rural masses who benefited from Mr. Thaksins policies of cheap health care and low-interest village loans and a Bangkok-based elite impervious to their plight.
Mr. Thaksins allies won elections in December 2007, but two resulting governments were forced out by court rulings. A parliamentary vote brought Mr. Abhisits party to power in December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
Mr. Abhisit must call a new election by the end of 2011, and many believe Mr. Thaksins allies are likely to win which could spark new protests by Mr. Thaksins opponents.
Residents of the sprawling Thai capital are divided in their view of the Red Shirts, and some are merely fed up about the loss of business, especially in tourism, and traffic jams the demonstrations have caused.
The protesters have received support from lower middle-class residents, many of them migrants from rural areas, and are detested by many in professional, business and senior government ranks.
However, some in the middle and upper classes have expressed sympathy for the Red Shirts demands for a better economic deal and an end to inequalities in Thai society, but do not support the movement outright because Mr. Thaksin is its key shadow leader.
Mr. Thaksin, a multimillionaire convicted of corruption and abuse of power, is a fugitive abroad but encourages the Red Shirts with frequent messages espousing democracy. His six years in office were riddled by massive corruption, nepotism and an erosion of democratic institutions.