Thousands of supporters of fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra have rallied against the new leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, threatening to engulf the kingdom in a fresh wave of political unrest.
Red-clad protesters waved signs saying “We love Thaksin” at a central Bangkok parade ground while a separate group halted traffic outside Parliament, one day before Mr Abhisit was due to deliver his first policy speech to MPs.
The demonstrations bring Thai politics full circle after a year of turmoil, with Thaksin loyalists now using the same tactics that helped their rivals to bring down a government led by the tycoon’s allies earlier this month.
“Our demand is for Abhisit to dissolve Parliament because he has no legitimacy,” Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the pro-Thaksin movement, said.
Police said 10,000 protesters, many of them dancing, had gathered at the parade ground, while organisers said the figure was twice as high.
A huge stage was backed with a banner saying “No confidence in Abhisit Vejjajiva”.
More than 3,000 unarmed riot police were on duty, handing out leaflets urging peaceful protests.
The protesters say they plan to move on to Parliament overnight.
But there were early tensions when another 1,000 protesters blocked the road outside Parliament’s main gate and set up another stage.
One speaker told the crowd: “If the Government does not dissolve the house, we will stay here.”
Mr Jatuporn said it was still uncertain if there would be a telephone address by Mr Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and remains in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
Mr Abhisit, the head of the Democrat Party, won a parliamentary vote to become Prime Minister on December 15, less than two weeks after a court dissolved the former ruling People Power Party that was loyal to Mr Thaksin.
The verdict followed months of protests by the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a yellow-clad, Thaksin-hating group that blockaded Bangkok’s airports earlier this month, causing huge damage to the economy.
Mr Abhisit – Thailand’s third premier in four months – brushed off the protests, saying he would give his policy statement as planned on Monday and Tuesday.
“We will not fight with anyone. After the next two days everything will be fine,” Mr Abhisit said.
“We will solve the problems, no matter how tough they are. But we have to be patient and it will take time.”