Thaksin supporters protest in Bangkok

Thousand of protesters rally in Bangkok demanding a royal pardon for Thailand's fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

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At least 30,00 "Red Shirt" protesters rallied in Bangkok today to submit a petition seeking a royal pardon for Thailand's fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, police said. Organisers say they have collected at least five million signatures in support of Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and fled the kingdom last August to escape a two-year jail term for corruption.

"I would like to say thank you to my fellow Thais, who have a good attitude towards me and to Thailand," Thaksin said in a speech broadcast live by video to the cheering crowd. "We are here today to inform our father, the King of every Thai, that we want to see unity and reconciliation," said Thaksin, wearing the trademark red shirt favoured by his backers. Billionaire tycoon Thaksin, 60, then turned to a portrait of Thailand's widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the royal family and sang a traditional royal song.

The protest group would submit their petition to the royal offices in Bangkok's Grand Palace in the afternoon, organisers said. The petition was packed in 10 boxes wrapped in red cloth. The police Major General Vichai Sangkapai confirmed that 30,000 people had joined the rally so far and that 1,500 uniformed officers had been deployed to secure the rally site. "So far the situation is normal, the rally is peaceful," he said.

The Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who took office in December, has warned Thaksin's supporters against signing the petition and said that only Mr Thaksin or his family are allowed to submit it. * AFP