People's Army protesters in Bangkok urge overthrow of 'Thaksin regime'
People's Army protesters demand overthrow of government as fears of fresh violent unrest grow
Hundreds gathered in Bangkok yesterday to protest against the government and divisive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Brandishing Thai national flags as well as the yellow emblem of the country's monarchy, demonstrators milled around restaurant carts and memorabilia stalls set up at the protest site in a central Bangkok park.
Organisers of the self-styled "People's Army" rally - a coalition of ultra-royalist and nationalist groups - called for the end of the current government and blasted its self-exiled figurehead Thaksin.
"It is time for Thai people who love the country to unite and become a people's army to overthrow the Thaksin regime," said one of the group's key leaders, retired general Preecha Iamsuwan.
Despite initial concerns over the potential for unrest in Bangkok, which has suffered several bouts of political violence in recent years, security forces kept a low profile at the event.
Police, who have said they are authorised to use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets if violence erupts, put the number of demonstrators at 1,500, with up to 4,000 expected by late last night.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, said on Saturday she was worried the rally "could lead to violence".
The Thai government has already invoked a special security law to control the protests, which could go on for several days. More than 1,600 police were deployed on Saturday to protect key government buildings, with thousands more on standby.
Thailand has been divided by political tensions since the overthrow of Thaksin, who lives abroad but still draws loyalty among the kingdom's poor, rural working class.
Mass demonstrations, often involving bloodshed, have become a recurrent feature of Thailand's turbulent politics in recent years, with ultra-royalist nationalist "yellow shirts" and their pro-Thaksin "red shirt" foes both taking to the streets.
In 2010 two months of red shirt protest against a previous government brought much of Bangkok to a standstill and culminated in a bloody military crackdown. About 90 died in the unrest, with about 1,900 injured.
Yesterday's protesters were targeting a government-backed bill, due to enter parliament on Wednesday, which proposes an amnesty for those involved in political violence since the coup that toppled Thaksin nearly seven years ago. Some members of the current protest groups are former yellow shirts, but the main yellow group has declined to support this round of protest.
The bill would scrap charges against protesters involved in incidents from the September 2006 coup until May 2012 - barring the leaders.
"I cannot accept this family any more. All they do is for their family, not for the people," protester Jarucha Saesuwan, 59, said. "I cannot accept they will forgive people who a court has found guilty."
An attempt to introduce an amnesty bill last year was aborted after yellow shirts and ultra-nationalists - who support the opposition Democrat Party - rallied outside the legislature.
The yellows, who boast support from Bangkok elites and elements in the military, helped unseat Thaksin and claimed the scalps of two allied governments in under five years.
Their 2008 rallies paralysed Bangkok's main airports stranding thousands of tourists, but more recent protests by ultra-nationalists have failed to attract large numbers.