Red Shirts Promise Peaceful Rallies

An estimated 10,000 anti-government red shirt protesters joined a peaceful rally in central Bangkok yesterday afternoon. The rally was organised by the United Front for Dictatorship Against Democracy (UDD). With many of the red shirt leaders still in detention the new chairwoman of the UDD is Thida Thawornset. Thida is the wife of one of the key figures of the UDD, Dr Weng, who was himself arrested following the protests earlier in the year. Thida has promised that all future protests by the red shirts will be peaceful as the UDD attempt to pressure the government into releasing on bail the detained leaders of the red shirt movement.

There was tight security in central Bangkok for yesterday’s rally, but the mood was good-natured with protesters shaking hands with the police on duty. Some roads in the Siam and Ratchaprasong area were closed as the red shirts gathered. A merit-making ceremony was held for those who lost their lives in the April and May clashes and later on, red origami birds were tied to red balloons which were then released. The rally finished at approximately 8pm local time.

Last week, Thida met with PM Abhisit in what was supposedly an accidental and unscheduled meeting at a coffee shop in a Bangkok hotel. The press were kept away as the two talked together. Thida has denied reports of a rift in the red shirt movement which has always been a broad alliance of groups. Thida herself was an opponent of Thaksin Shinawatra when he was in office and has attempted to distance herself from him. However, she acknowledges that Thaksin remains a key figure for many grassroots red shirt supporters who still support him. Although Thaksin sent a message of support for yesterday’s rally, Thida looks keen to play down the role of the former Thai prime minister in the current red shirt movement.

More rallies are promised in the same central commercial area of Bangkok on the 19th day of each month until the detained red shirt leaders are released. Gatherings are also planned for the 10th of each month at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. The dates have been chosen to mark the April 10 clashes between troops and red shirts and the May 19 dispersal of the protests. There have been a number of red shirt rallies that have taken place since May despite the emergency law in effect in Bangkok. PM Abhisit has allowed the protests to go ahead as he considers the timing of the next general election which must take place before the end of 2011. Abhisit has already hinted that elections could be held early next year, possibly in March or April.