The warning by the "red shirts" highlights the risks ahead as
anti-government protesters keep pushing to eradicate the political
influence of Yingluck's brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra,
a hero in the rural north and northeast who was toppled by the
military in 2006.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in
the previous government that Yingluck's ruling party beat by a
landslide in 2011, has ignored her call for a snap election to be
held on Feb. 2.
He wants Thailand to be governed by an unelected "people's council"
made up of appointed "good people". Such an unprecedented move alone
would potentially spark conflict with Yingluck's red-shirted
supporters in the country of 66 million.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), as the
red shirts are known, could rally to protect the government, said
Jatuporn Promphan, one of its leaders.
"It is the UDD's job to bring together en masse the red shirts and
those who love democracy and don't agree with Suthep's methods.
There will be many more people than Suthep managed to gather," he
told Reuters in an interview.
Suthep, who a few weeks ago resigned the parliamentary seat he had
held for 34 years, derives support from a small but powerful
minority: the royalist elite in Bangkok and the opposition
Democrats, the country's oldest party, who have failed to win an
election since 1992.
In 2010, he authorized a crackdown by security forces that left
downtown Bangkok burning and killed scores of red shirts, who say
they remain supportive of Yingluck and her billionaire brother
Thaksin, who lives in self-exile to avoid jail for abuse of power
charges that he says were politically motivated.
Thaksin is widely seen as the power behind Yingluck's government,
sometimes holding meetings with the cabinet by webcam. They have
huge support in the countryside because of pro-poor policies and any
party associated with Thaksin stands a good chance of winning the
"When Suthep speaks he should bear in mind that there are millions
of Thais who love Thaksin and love the Shinawatra family," Thida
Thawornseth, the top UDD leader, told Reuters.
"Where does Suthep come off thinking he can speak on behalf of all
Thais?" she added. "Suthep has said Yingluck cannot go anywhere in
Thailand without being insulted. What about him? He is the one who
should be worried."
The comments from the red shirts suggest the protests could lead to
a wider conflict if Yingluck's elected government is forcibly
After courts brought down two Thaksin-allied governments in 2008 and
the Democrats came to power through a parliamentary vote believed to
be orchestrated by the military, the red shirts built up a street
movement that paralyzed Bangkok in April-May 2010 and ended with the
bloody military crackdown.
A year later, the Democrats were trounced in an election.
[to top of second column]
The red shirts cut short a rally on Dec. 1 after fatal clashes
around the stadium where it was being held and postponed a mass
demonstration that had been planned for Ayutthaya to the north of
Bangkok on Dec. 10.
Asked what would bring them out on to the street, Jatuporn said:
"When chaos ensues or when Suthep's side uses violent methods to
He declined to say where the rally could be held but said the aim
was not to seek confrontation but to show that the pro-Thaksin
forces could bring out more people than Suthep.
After forcing the snap election on Monday, when 160,000 people
massed around the prime minister's office, Suthep gave Yingluck 24
hours to step down. She is caretaker prime minister until the
election, set for Feb. 2.
After that deadline ran out on Tuesday night, Suthep said police
should arrest her.
"I ask police to arrest Yingluck for treason because she did not
meet our orders," he told supporters still camping out at Government
Before the deadline had elapsed, he said: "If you don't listen, we
will escalate our protest until you and the rest of the Shinawatra
family are unable to stand it anymore.
"How long will you be able to stand it if people spit on your car
every day?" he said. In previous speeches he has said the whole
Shinawatra family should leave the country.
Suthep says the government has violated the constitution in several
ways. In return, he has been charged with insurrection.
So far no attempt has been made to arrest him.
In his speech, Suthep urged the military, traditionally close to the
royalists, to take control of government buildings in place of the
police, who are closer to Thaksin, himself a former police officer.
The politically powerful army, which has staged or attempted 18
coups in the past 80 years, has said it does not want to get
involved, although it has tried to mediate.
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Pairat
Temphairojana; Writing by Alan Raybould and Jason Szep; editing by
[© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2013 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.