Thai "red shirts" take up fight to defend PM facing impeachment

Thai "red shirts" take up fight to defend PM facing impeachment
File photo: Supporters "Red Shirts" of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra attend a gathering after shutting down the gates of the headquarters of the National Anti-Corruption Commission

BANGKOK - Supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra say they will take to the streets as moves to impeach her gather pace, raising the spectre of confrontation with protesters who helped scupper a February election she had been expected to win.

The Constitutional Court annulled the election on Friday and the chairman of the Election Commission said it would be months before a new vote could be held, leaving Yingluck at the head of an enfeebled caretaker government with limited powers.

The crisis is the latest chapter in an eight-year battle between Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra, her brother, who was ousted as premier by the army in 2006. He lives in Dubai to avoid a jail term for abuse of power.

After months of restraint, Thaksin's "red shirts" supporters are making militant noises under hardline new leaders.

"On April 5, red brothers and sisters, pack your belongings and be ready for a major assembly. The destination may be Bangkok or other places, it will be announced later," Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the "red-shirts" United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, told supporters late on Saturday.

Mr Jatuporn helped organise a "red-shirts" uprising against a previous government that ended in a bloody military crackdown in May 2010. More than 90 people were killed during the protests in central Bangkok. Jatuporn still faces terrorism charges related to the violence in 2010.

In the latest political crisis, 23 people have died and more than 700 have been wounded since November.

Speaking to an estimated 10,000 people in Pattaya southeast of Bangkok, another leader, Nisit Sintuprai, sent a warning to Suthep Thaugsuban, the former oppposition politician who has led the protests against Yingluck since November.

"One big reason why we are on the move again is to tell Suthep that the majority in this country want democracy, want government through elections. We cannot accept a prime minister nominated by your people," he said.

Suthep's People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) wants unspecified electoral changes before any election, aiming to dilute the influence of Thaksin and his massive support among the rural poor in the north and northeast.

Parties led by or allied to Thaksin have won every election since 2001 and Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is widely expected to win any election held under current arrangements.

Suthep's supporters disrupted the election on Feb. 2 and prevented voting in 28 constituencies. The Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that made the ballot illegal because voting is supposed to be held across the country on the same day.

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