BANGKOK – Around 12,000 Red Shirt protesters rallied in Bangkok Sunday to mark the third anniversary of a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests which exposed Thailand’s deep divisions, police said.
About 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 wounded in a series of street clashes in May 2010 between demonstrators and security forces, which culminated in the military crackdown.
On Sunday roads were blocked as Red Shirts, loyal to ousted self-exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, massed at an intersection in Bangkok’s glitzy shopping district.
Central World, Thailand’s largest shopping mall which was torched in the final days of the 2010 protest, was also closed while the colourful rally took place.
“The protest is peaceful,” said Police Major General Chantavit Ramasut, adding some 12,000 people joined the rally with around 750 policemen keeping watch.
Thailand has been racked by sometimes explosive political divisions since Thaksin was ousted by the army in a 2006 coup.
Rights groups have called for the perpetrators of the 2010 violence to be prosecuted. They condemn moves by the current government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, to push through an amnesty for the political violence.
Analysts say an amnesty would both appease the royalist army and pave the way for his bid to return to the kingdom.
“Three years ago, the world saw soldiers shooting protesters and parts of Bangkok going up in flames,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“But instead of investigating and prosecuting those responsible, successive Thai governments and the army have politicised efforts for justice and are now backing an amnesty bill that would let everyone off the hook.”
The crackdown followed weeks of rallies by the Red Shirts which brought parts of central Bangkok to a standstill.
Then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who oversaw the military crackdown, has blamed protest leaders for the violent denouement and said his government had no choice but to take tough action.
Courts have ruled that some protesters were killed by security forces, leading to charges of murder being laid against Abhisit — accusations he strenuously denies.
On Sunday the memory of the dead was still raw.
“I come every year and I have to come every year, I miss the people who sacrificed themselves, I will come until there is real democracy,” said Thanadej Nonprocha, 45, from the Red Shirt heartland of northeastern Thailand.