Thai protesters plan new march

Thailand's red-shirted protesters say they will hold a parade tomorrow that would eclipse last week's street events that drew 65,000 people.

BANGKOK // Thailand's red-shirted protesters, loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, said they would hold a parade tomorrow that would eclipse last week's street events that drew 65,000 people. The "Red Shirts" said that, to avoid any attempt to halt their action, they will not announce the parade's route in advance and instead allow the assembled protesters to decide where to march. "We ask all Red Shirt people to come here ... and leaders will ask our people on what our next move will be," the Reds leader Nattawut Saikua told reporters at the main rally ground in the government quarter today.

"We have to make a move in order to show our power, because staying put would not be a forceful protest," he said, adding that the street demonstrations which began on March 14 would remain peaceful. Mr Thaksin's supporters were buoyed by last Saturday's parade which saw a colourful convoy of lorries, cars and motorcycles snake through Bangkok's teeming streets. Mr Nattawut said this weekend's gathering would be bigger but, with grumbles emerging over disruption caused by the rallies, did not repeat organisers' earlier promises to mount an event that would "shut down" Bangkok.

The Reds, largely from poor northern areas, are pushing for elections to replace the government which came to power with army backing in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a controversial court ruling removed Mr Thaksin's allies. Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption, regularly addresses his supporters by videolink and yesterday urged them to intensify pressure on the government.

He also raised the prospect of a campaign of civil disobedience if the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, continues to refuse demands to dissolve parliament. "I pledge all of you to come out in force and fight peacefully. If they won't listen to us then we will begin civil disobedience as (Indian independence hero) Gandhi did to win against Britain. "If it is necessary we will have to do this. It's time for you to make sacrifices - don't be afraid," he said.

A 50,000-strong security force has been in place in Bangkok and surrounding districts since the start of protests triggered by a court ruling that seized 1.4 billion dollars of Mr Thaksin's fortune. *AFP