Anti-government protesters head for Bangkok

Thousands of red-shirted, anti-government demonstrators converged on the Thai capital from the north and northeast today, vowing to oust the government in a mass, do-or-die display of muscle.

Although protest leaders stressed they would not resort to violence, many businesses closed down, social events were canceled and Bangkok's normally chaotic traffic was unusually light.



The "million-man march," which is to climax tomorrow, is regarded by some as the last chance for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand.



The Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, are made up of followers of Thaksin, along with other people who oppose the 2006 military coup that toppled him.



Forcing the government out of power, Thaksin loyalists say, could pave the way for his pardon and return. Thaksin, who resides in Dubai, faces criminal charges for abuse of power.



Several thousand protesters started gathering peacefully in Bangkok yesterday. This morning, far larger numbers were seen on the outskirts of the sprawling city arriving in trucks, buses and motorcycles from the Thaksin heartland — the impoverished, rural northeast and the north, where the fugitive leader was born.



An AP photographer at Wang Noi, to the north of the city, saw one line of protesters stretching some 4 miles along a highway while security personnel slowly searched the arrivals. Traffic jams on the highway began as far as 30 miles from the city.



Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said protesters were being provided with free bus rides from provincial areas to Bangkok, but vehicles driven by the demonstrators had to be parked in designated areas.



"In general we think the peacekeeping operation has been going well. We will have to be more cautious at the rally tonight to prevent any possible violence," he said.



The demonstrators seek to have Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call a new election, which they believe will allow their political allies to regain power. They believe that Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional Thai ruling class, who were jealous and fearful of Thaksin's popularity while in office in 2001-2006.



Recent independent polls in Bangkok have indicated that a large segment of the population, irrespective of their political beliefs, is fed up with the protests, which have battered the economy in general and the lucrative tourism industry in particular.



Thailand has been in a state of constant political turmoil since early 2006, when demonstrations accusing Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power were launched. In 2008, when Thaksin's political allies came back to power for a year, his opponents occupied the prime minister's office compound for three months and seized Bangkok's two airports for a week.



"As long as there is no justice, Thailand cannot be united," Jaran Ditthapichai, a Red Shirt leader, told the crowd outside the police headquarters Friday. "We want the power to be returned to the people."



The Red Shirts have vowed to keep their protest nonviolent — and some in Bangkok carried single stem roses that they handed to policemen. However, the group's last major protest in Bangkok in April deteriorated into rioting that left two people killed, more than 120 people injured and buses burned on major thoroughfares. The army was called in to quash the unrest.



The government, while saying it will honor the right to gather for peaceful protest, has set up roadblocks at all main access points to the capital, and has been stopping and searching cars for weapons. A force of 50,000 soldiers, police and other security was mobilized for the Bangkok area.



The Red Shirts say they hope to gather 400,000-600,000 people to all come together tomorrow on Bangkok's Rajdamnoen Avenue, a venue that has been the site of the country's most important political protests of the past 50 years.



Red Shirt leaders have been vague about how long they hope to keep the protest running, preferring to say they believe the government will step down and call new polls within just a few days.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape