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Thai protesters return to streets

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets of Bangkok, peacefully marking six months since the military's crackdown on their protest that dragged the Thai capital into chaos.

The so-called Red Shirts massed at the same intersection - briefly blocking traffic - where they made their final stand in the spring before heavily armed soldiers swept through and arrested protest leaders.

More than 1,000 police turned out to provide security for the demonstration, which drew around 5,000 people.

Despite repression, including a state of emergency still in effect in Bangkok that allows civil liberties to be curbed, the Red Shirt movement continues to be active and is treated as a major threat by the government.

About 90 people were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded in the March to May unrest, as the protesters tried to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call early elections. They claim he came to power illegitimately, with the help of the military. Many are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup.

The protests earlier this year had been mostly peaceful until April 10, when an armed clash occurred as the military sought to drive the protesters from one stronghold.

Gunmen on the side of the Red Shirts fought back and killed a high-ranking army officer, escalating the confrontation. The gunmen continued to launch attacks and used grenade launchers on targets in the middle of the city. Several civilians were among those killed.

The authorities struck back with deadly force, and demonstrators accounted for most of the fatalities. As the army moved in, arsonists set fire to several dozen buildings, including a luxury shopping centre that was next to their encampment.

The Red Shirts have demanded that authorities be held accountable for the deaths among their ranks.

"I still would like to ask Abhisit Vejjajiva if he wants the country to carry on this way," Jatuporn Prompan, a key Red Shirt leader, said after paying respects at a Brahmin shrine next to where the main protest stage used to be. "As long as there is no justice and the political leaders are either killed or are behind bars, the people can always rise up to fight."


From Belfast Telegraph