Waving flags and blowing whistles, protesters marched from Lumpini
Park in the business district of Bangkok, where protesters retreated
to earlier this month, toward the city's old quarter after a brief
hiatus in anti-government rallies.
"The rally has been largely peaceful and very disciplined.
Protesters are now heading back to their base in the park after a
series of symbolic ceremonies," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, a security
adviser to the prime minister, told Reuters.
"We expected the crowd to be around 50,000-strong but the number of
protesters doesn't look like it will exceed 30,000."
A grenade exploded as protesters passed the Foreign Ministry
offices, but no one was hurt, police said. It was unclear who was
responsible for the attack.
Thailand has been in crisis since former premier Thaksin Shinawatra,
Yingluck's brother, was ousted in a 2006 coup. The conflict broadly
pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment
against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of the Shinawatras.
Saturday's march is seen as a test of the anti-government movement's
popularity as the number of protesters has dwindled considerably in
By mid-afternoon police put the crowd at around 20,000. Around 500
protesters from the Network of Students and People for the Reform of
Thailand, a splinter group of the main protest group, broke into the
compound of Government House, a site largely abandoned by officials.
Over the past five months, protesters have shut state offices and
disrupted a February 2 election which was nullified by a court on
March 21, leaving Thailand in political limbo and Yingluck at the
head of a caretaker government with limited powers.
Election officials have said it will take at least three months to
organize a new election.
Since the current round of protests kicked off in November, 23
people have been killed in sporadic political violence.
Protesters want political and electoral reforms before a new general
election and to rid the country of Thaksin's influence.
"We will no longer accept this oppressive regime. They, Thaksin and
Yingluck, are no longer welcome in Thailand," protest leader Suthep
Thaugsuban told reporters as he led protesters who shouted
"Yingluck, get out!".
[to top of second column]
Yingluck has dismissed calls by protesters to step down but faces
several legal challenges that could lead to her removal. She has
until Monday to defend herself before the National Anti-Corruption
Commission (NACC) for dereliction of duty over a rice-buying scheme
that has run up huge losses.
If the commission recommends her impeachment, she could be removed
from office by the upper house Senate which may have an anti-Thaksin
majority after an election for half its members on Sunday.
The vote is to elect 77 senators for the 150-seat Senate. The rest
are appointed, and a government attempt to make it a fully elected
body was one of the sparks that set off the latest unrest in
The non-elected Senators are picked by judges and senior officials
from agencies such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission
(NACC), members of an establishment whom government supporters see
as viscerally anti-Thaksin.
"Red shirt" supporters of Yinguck and Thaksin are sounding more
militant under hardline new leaders and say they are prepared to
take to the streets of Bangkok as moves to impeach Yingluck gather
pace, increasing the risk of a confrontation.
They plan a big rally, possibly in Bangkok, on April 5.
At the height of the current protests more than 200,000 people took
to the streets to demand Yingluck's resignation.
(Additional reporting by Chaiwat Subprasom;
editing by Jeremy
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.