Thai “red shirts” consider symbolic airport rally
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai “red shirt” demonstrators are planning a symbolic rally next week near Bangkok’s main airport, but insisted on Wednesday there would be no repeat of a crippling blockade a year ago by a rival protest movement.
The anti-government group said it was considering a brief demonstration on the road leading to Suvarnabhumi Airport to highlight the government’s failure to prosecute “yellow shirt” protestors who shut down two airports in December 2008.
The eight-day blockade by the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which helped undermine two governments backed by exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, disrupted trade and left at least 230,000 tourists stranded.
The PAD’s occupation of the $4 billion (2.45 billion pound) Suvarnabhumi airport led to downgrades of Thailand’s sovereign credit rating and dealt a big blow to the country’s vital tourism industry, which returned to positive growth in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Most significant, the “red shirts” say, is the failure to prosecute those behind the siege. At the same time as the PAD protest, a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party government and ushered in the current administration, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrats.
“If we go to the airport, it will be a symbolic rally. We won’t bring many people,” said Arisman Pongruangrong, a folk singer and key activist with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), the “red shirts” formal name.
“We won’t close the airport or shut down traffic. We just want to tell the world that the government is unfair and practices double standards,” he added.
Thailand’s stock market has reflected concerns about the impact of the UDD’s anti-government push, with the benchmark index falling more than one percent on Tuesday, against regional trends, on news of the mooted airport rally.
The UDD, which is backed by the twice-elected Thaksin, accuses the government and his opponents — the PAD, royal advisors, business elites and the military — of using undemocratic means to topple elected pro-Thaksin governments.
The UDD has staged recent protests at symbolic locations such as the offices of the Election Commission (EC) and the Privy Council, a body of advisers to the country’s revered king.
The UDD plans to hold a mass rally in eastern Chantaburi province this weekend at a golf course they claim was built illegally on forest reserve land and may have links to Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, the king’s closest aide.
It believes Prem, an 89-year-old former premier and army chief, masterminded the coup that removed Thaksin in 2006. It also says the EC is dragging its heels in investigating Abhisit’s Democrats over alleged irregularities in campaign donations.
The UDD also plans to hold a mass rally lasting at least one week on the roads near the seat of government, starting in mid-February, calling for fresh elections.
It is likely to take place at the same time as a parliamentary no-confidence motion against the government by the pro-Thaksin opposition Puea Thai party.
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