In their largest show of force in months, the pro-government "red
shirts", or United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship as the
group is formally known, said they were prepared to thwart any move
to dismiss Yingluck who faces mounting legal cases that could see
her removed from office in coming weeks.
Leaders of the movement said they were not seeking a fight with the
thousands of anti-government protesters holding their own rally at
their headquarters in Bangkok's Lumpini Park, near the city's
The red shirts were gathering on a scenic country road at the edge
of the city, more than 30 km (18 miles) from Lumpini. Around 3,000
police were on guard.
"We're not looking for a confrontation with the anti-government
crowd," red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan told Reuters. "This is
about showing our strength and to warn the elite that we will not
accept it if Yingluck is removed by the courts."
Government supporters accuse Yingluck's enemies of plotting a
judicial coup. The courts have been unusually active in recent weeks
and Yingluck looks increasingly hemmed in.
Red shirt leaders expect more than 500,000 to show up but others
gave a more conservative estimate.
"More than 100,000 protesters are at the site now. It's highly
unlikely 500,000 will show up but red shirts are still trickling
in," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, a security adviser to the prime
minister, told Reuters.
"There's a massive traffic jam and cars trying to get in are bumper
READY FOR A LONG STAY
Many had packed for a long stay, bringing portable gas stoves and
food supplies to last a week. Most were expected to stay overnight.
The struggle pits the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck
and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, against
anti-government protesters from Bangkok and the south backed by the
At the height of the demonstrations, anti-government protesters shut
down key road junctions in Bangkok and blockaded state offices. They
disrupted a February 2 election which was nullified by a court in
March, prolonging weeks of uncertainty.
The anti-government protesters, mainly urban and middle class Thais,
want to replace Yingluck with a so-called neutral prime minister to
help usher in broad political and electoral reforms.
Red shirt protesters say they will not accept a prime minister
appointed by the conservative establishment.
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"There is no way, absolutely no way, that we will accept a prime
minister of their choosing. The only prime minister we want is an
elected one," said a volunteer cook.
Protesters held framed
pictures of Yingluck and Thaksin and signs including one that read:
Reds will not accept a judicial coup!
On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court accepted a case against her
lodged by 27 senators who say Yingluck abused power when she
transferred the national security chief in 2011.
Yingluck has been given 15 days to defend herself before the court.
If found guilty, she faces removal from office.
She also faces charges of negligence brought against her by the
National Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with a government
rice-buying scheme that has run up huge losses. She could be
impeached if the case is forwarded to the Senate.
The military, which has staged numerous coups since Thailand became
a constitutional monarchy in 1932, ousted Thaksin in 2006. It has
stayed out of the fray this time.
Apirak Konsompthong, commander of the 11th Infantry Division, told
reporters on Saturday that the army would seek to remain neutral in
"Our explosive ordnance disposal and rapid deployment teams will
help support police security efforts at the red rally this weekend.
However, our main responsibility is to stay neutral" said Apirak.
Twenty-four people have been killed and more than 700 injured since
the anti-government protests erupted in late November.
(Additional Jutarat Skulpichetrat; editing by Nick Macfie and Ron
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