Thousands of Thai “Red Shirts” gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, police said, to mark eight months since a deadly military crackdown on their mass anti-government protest last year.
Wearing their trademark colour and singing the “Red in the Land” anthem, protesters waved banners reading “Liar State!” and held aloft pictures of their hero, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Police said around 27,000 people joined the peaceful demonstration by the Reds, whose April and May rally last year calling for snap elections ended in clashes between troops and protesters that left more than 90 people dead.
Jatuporn Prompan, a prominent figure in the movement, said Red Shirts would continue to gather twice a month, calling for the release of many of their leaders, who are in prison on terrorism charges following the 2010 unrest.
He said the protest would continue until midnight but there would not be a telephone address from Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and lives abroad, having been sentenced in absentia to prison for corruption.
The controversial Thaksin, who draws support among the mainly poor and working class Red Shirts but is loathed by the urban elite, spoke to another demonstration earlier this month.
Jatuporn said the demonstrations’ “style will be changed to make less trouble for people who live and work around the protest sites”.
The rally began in the upmarket central shopping district of Ratchaprasong but later relocated to the Democracy Monument in the historic district — the site of a deadly clash between protesters and authorities on April 10.
The move is part of an agreement with retailers, who had complained about a loss of business caused by the twice-monthly demonstrations.
In an open letter to Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva earlier this month, the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association (RSTA) said 2,088 businesses lost 11 billion baht (362 million dollars) last year due to the mass rally, which attracted 100,000 people at its peak.
After the army crackdown in May, small bands of militant protesters set dozens of buildings ablaze across Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong’s glitzy CentralWorld shopping mall.
The Red Shirt movement has shown increasing strength in recent months — a rally earlier in January saw around 30,000 demonstrators in Bangkok.
Even before emergency rule — which banned gatherings of more than five people — was lifted in the capital last month, Red rallies in Bangkok had begun to regularly attract thousands.