Red Shirts declare class war in Thailand

BANGKOK: Thailand’s rural underclass, vying to revive flagging momentum after a week of colourful protests, today appealed for a popular uprising against the well-entrenched political and aristocratic elite.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva renewed an offer of talks with the so-called Red Shirt movement, but has stood firm against its demands for his resignation and snap elections.

Police said numbers had dwindled to 38,000 at the rally site, from more than 100,000 at the weekend, as the remaining Red Shirts sought to reach out to Bangkok’s middle classes in their campaign against the all-powerful elite.

“I ask workers and government employees who feel injustice to join us,” said Suporn Atthawong, a protest leader from northeast Thailand, the heartland of support for populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. “Rural grassroots people join hands with the middle class to drive Abhisit from his post,” he urged the crowds.

Leader Nattawut Saikur said the protest, which has so far been peaceful and overseen by a massive contingent of security forces, would on Saturday “spread out on every road across Bangkok to appeal to more people to join us”.

“This afternoon our provincial leaders will give their political views from the stage and declare their class war,” Nattawut told reporters, claiming reinforcements would also arrive from the north for Saturday’s drive.

Abhisit appeared in a nationally televised address from an army barracks in the northern outskirts of Bangkok, where he has been based for most of the rally, and reiterated his offers of dialogue.

“I am ready to talk with any Red groups,” the prime minister said, adding that the government was ready to discuss the dissolution of parliament “if every party agrees that the dissolution will truly lead to genuine peace”.

The protesters claim Abhisit’s government is illegitimate as it came to power with army backing via a December 2008 parliamentary vote, after a controversial court ruling ousted Thaksin’s allies.

While Abhisit offered talks, a government spokesman today confirmed that the premier had also told lawyers to begin legal action against Thaksin and Red leaders for making false accusations against him.