Protesters Return To Bangkok Streets

BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters returned to the streets here on Sunday in a large but short-lived demonstration that underlined the persistent divisions in Thailand four months after a military crackdown.

BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters returned to the streets here on Sunday in a large but short-lived demonstration that underlined the persistent divisions in Thailand four months after a military crackdown.

Thousands of protesters, many in their trademark red shirts, massed in front of the burned out remains of a shopping center, chanting, “People died here!” It was by far the largest demonstration since the military cleared the streets of protesters on May 19. The police asserted that protesters responded to the crackdown by staging arson attacks and destroying government offices in several cities, a charge that protest leaders have denied.

“The reds are not scared anymore,” said Sombat Boonngamanong, who helped organize the protest through Facebook and other social networks.

The gathering on Sunday also marked the fourth anniversary of the military coup that deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon turned prime minister whom many of the antigovernment protesters supported.

Government officials allowed the demonstration to take place despite an emergency decree that has banned political gatherings in Bangkok and several provinces. The police and protest leaders alike said they were surprised by the turnout, which Mr. Sombat estimated at 10,000.

Protesters released red balloons and lit candles across an intersection that they had blocked, snarling traffic. Shopping malls in the area announced they were closing early.

“A lot of my friends died here,” said Suthat Chobkan, 47, a restaurant owner from northeastern Thailand who took part in the protests this year and returned to the site of the crackdown on Sunday. “Red shirts love each other. We all have the same heart.”

A total of 91 people were killed during protests in April and May, according to Bangkok Emergency Medical Services, a branch of the municipal government. The leaders of those protests are awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

The government has also sought to squelch opposition by shutting down Web sites, radio stations and a television channel connected to the red shirts.

The protesters appeared jovial on Sunday, but many refused to give their names, saying they feared reprisals from the government.

Thailand has been racked by periodic protests and political turmoil for the past five years, partly because of the polarizing role of Mr. Thaksin, who was admired by many voters, especially in rural areas, but reviled by the Bangkok elite, who saw him as a threat to their power. The country is also divided over the future role of the monarchy, the military’s influence in politics and the power of senior civil servants.

Mr. Thaksin, who was convicted of abuse of power in a highly political trial, called for reconciliation on Sunday in Twitter messages to his supporters. He said he was in Lebanon.

“There has been no better time to have a dialogue,” he said in one message. “I know that people are still angry and unhappy. But I want to point out that a civilized nation must have sacrifices from people.”

Source: nytimes.com