Some 80,000 red-shirted protesters fanned out through the Thai capital's old quarter Saturday, reviving their campaign for new polls to replace a government they reject as undemocratic.
The "Red Shirts" loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra said they would march from their main rally ground to eight points where soldiers are stationed including the city's zoo and several Buddhist temples.
The Reds said they aimed to put pressure on the military, which has mounted a heavy security response to the demonstrations that began on March 14.
"We will meet with the military and police in a spirit of friendship, and talk with them to convince them to return to their barracks, and invite them to join us in calling for democracy," said protest leader Veera Musikapong.
|Buddhist monks sit on a stage as Red Shirt protesters (in background), supporters of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, gather for an anti-government protest in Bangkok, on March 27|
"All these locations are not far from here so you can march there, you must be disciplined and listen to leaders. We will not carry any weapons except our foot clappers," he said, referring to the noise-makers wielded by the crowd.
Police estimated the crowd at 80,000, larger than a street parade a week ago that drew 65,000 people in a noisy but peaceful procession through Bangkok.
The route was scaled back Saturday, in response to grumbles over traffic congestion and disruption to life in the teeming capital.
Hours before the rally, a small blast hit a government building in the latest of a series of about a dozen explosions that have been set off in Bangkok and surrounding areas in recent weeks.
Police said the blast went off outside the customs building in central Bangkok, shattering windows and damaging a van parked nearby, but causing no injuries.
"We still don't know type of bomb it was, we will have to wait for a forensic examination," said a district police officer.
The Reds, largely from poor northern areas, say Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power with army backing in a 2008 parliamentary vote, after a controversial court ruling removed Thaksin's allies.
Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption, regularly addresses his supporters by videolink and on Thursday urged them to intensify pressure on the government.
He also raised the prospect of a campaign of civil disobedience if Abhisit continues to refuse demands to dissolve parliament.
A 50,000-strong security force has been in place in Bangkok and surrounding districts since the start of protests triggered by a court ruling that seized 1.4 billion dollars of Thaksin's fortune.