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30,000 Thai Red Shirts Join Anti-Government Rally in Bangkok

Thai anti-government 'red shirt' protesters gather at Bangkok's shopping district, decorated in red colors, 09 Jan 2011

Thousands of Thai anti-government activists have marched in Bangkok in one of their biggest shows of strength since a mass protest that triggered a deadly military crackdown last year.

About 30,000 Red Shirts, as the activists are known, gathered around Bangkok's Democracy Monument Sunday and marched to an upscale shopping area in the city center, blocking traffic on a major street.

The Red Shirts had staged a mass sit-in at the site in April to May last year, paralyzing central Bangkok and engaging in street battles with Thai security forces. The violence killed about 90 people, mostly civilians. The protesters had demanded early elections to replace a government they view as illegitimate and elitist.

In Sunday's rally, the Red Shirts called on the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to release Red Shirt leaders who were arrested and charged with terrorism for involvement in last year's mass protest. The activists also demanded justice for fellow Red Shirts killed in the military crackdown.

Authorities deployed 1,000 police to maintain order. The rally appeared to be peaceful.

The marchers included senior Red Shirt activist Jatuporn Prompan, who has avoided arrest because he is a lawmaker with parliamentary immunity.

The Red Shirt movement has vowed to stage mass gatherings in Bangkok twice a month to press its demands.

Red Shirts have staged a series of anti-government rallies in the capital in recent months, the latest of which drew about 10,000 people on December 19. The activists had ignored a state of emergency that banned public gatherings of more than five people. The government lifted that ban in late December.

Many Red Shirts are rural and working class supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the military ousted in a 2006 coup. Thaksin lives in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption.