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Tens of thousands of Thailand protesters on Sunday demanded the dissolution of the Thai government within 24 hours. If that does not happen, the masses of "red shirt" protesters gathered in the streets of Bangkok say they will launch more massive street demonstrations against the current regime.
The Bangkok Post reports that the leadership of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), whose members wear red in support of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, made their formal demand for dissolution before the gathering.
"We're asking the government to relinquish power and return it to the people," he said.
[UDD leader Veera Musikhapong] threatened that the group would spread their protests across the capital in coming days if their demands are not met.
He said the present government was in fact a dictatorship under another name and the red-shirts did not believe it could be in the people's best interests.
"However, the demonstrators will not mobilise to other areas in the next 24 hours," he said in the afternoon.
BBC News reports that the protesters number around 100,000, though UDD leaders had promised that hundreds of thousands would come. The BBC adds that some 40,000 police and other security personnel have been deployed in Bangkok to deal with the protesters.
Riot police and soldiers have been deployed outside Government House and other strategic points.
The military has been given extra powers to impose curfews and restrict numbers at gatherings if necessary.
The last major protests, in April last year, turned violent, with two deaths and dozens of people injured.
But this may be the red shirts' last chance to reverse Thailand's political direction, says our correspondent, with the movement tiring and probably running low on funds.
The BBC also offers a photo slideshow of the red shirt protests.
Experts do worry that third parties might try to agitate the situation to violence to discredit the UDD, however. And The Bangkok Post cites Thai-language newspaper Thai Rath, which wrote that the UDD is unlikely to be successful in their challenge to the government because its leadership may lose control of the situation if the protesters get too large in number or stay too long in Bangkok without seeing results.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the protests "vividly demonstrat[e] the continuing pull of Thailand's ousted leader, former telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra," who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. The forces behind the coup still support the current regime, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has refused to dissolve the government.
In a weekly television address, Mr. Abhisit suggested he wouldn't dissolve Parliament and call new elections, saying it could cause further tension. "Dissolution and call for resignations are normal in a democratic system. But we have to make sure the dissolution of parliament will solve the problem and won't cause more trouble at the next election," said Mr. Abhisit, who also dismissed speculation that another coup was being planned. ...
"If the government gives in to the red-shirt demands, it would signify that the 2006 coup had no meaning. The alliance between the army and the bureaucratic elites would have lost everything they have gained in the past four years," says Thanet Aphornsuvan, a historian at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "It will be very difficult for the authorities to back down, and if they do it will be a decision taken by the army and the bureaucracy, too, not just Mr. Abhisit."
The protests come just a few weeks after Thailand's Supreme Court confiscated $1.4 billion of Thaksin's money, which had been seized during the 2006 coup. The ruling was just the latest in a series of legal defeats for Thaksin, which his supporters say show a judicial bias against him.