- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BANGKOK — Anti-government demonstrators vowed Wednesday to extend their protest in the Thai capital indefinitely, after taking their attention-grabbing tactic of pouring bottles of their own blood to the prime minister’s home.

Leaders of the Red Shirt protesters, who want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call new elections, said they would scale back the size of the demonstration they began Sunday in order to conserve energy and resources.

The decision to stay encamped in the Thai capital is meant to keep up the pressure on Mr. Abhisit, who already has rejected several of the protesters’ deadlines to dissolve Parliament.

Red-shirted protesters hurled plastic bags filled with their own blood into Mr. Abhisit’s residential compound Wednesday, following similar protests the day before at his office and the headquarters of his Democrat Party.

Several thousand later gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy, saying they wanted to tell the international community that their government is illegitimate.

The blood-spilling tactic — said to show the willingness of the common people to sacrifice themselves for their cause and their nation — grabbed attention but put the Red Shirt movement no closer to its goal of forcing new elections.

More than 100,000 demonstrators converged on the capital Sunday, and organizers boasted that they would topple the government within days. But the crowd shrunk Wednesday to about 40,000, according to Maj. Gen. Vichai Sangparpai, a metropolitan police commander.

The protesters consist of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover. They believe Mr. Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.

After a strategy meeting, the Red Shirt leaders said they would keep up their presence in an old part of Bangkok that is a traditional venue for political demonstrations.

“We’ll maintain our stronghold, but there will be rotation of manpower,” said one of the protest leaders, Veera Musikapong.

The group also reaffirmed its commitment to nonviolence and announced it is breaking ties with allies who had made high-profile threats of attacks on government officials and institutions.

Mr. Abhisit has been staying at an army base and making frequent trips out of the city since preliminary protests began last Friday. Nattawut Saikua, another protest leader, said if the Red Shirts continue to mass near Mr. Abhisit’s offices, it will keep up the pressure on the prime minister.

“Now he has to stay in an army camp. He can’t come to work at the Government House or even stay in Bangkok,” Mr. Nattawut said.

The strategy mirrors that of the group’s political rivals, the Yellow Shirts, who camped out in Bangkok’s streets for 193 days in 2008 to try to force two pro-Thaksin prime ministers from power. The Yellow Shirts, also known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy, occupied the prime minister’s office for three months and seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week. In the end, the Thaksin allies were forced from office by the courts on legal grounds.

The Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, have avoided violence, which was widely feared ahead of the protest.

Their last major protest in Bangkok, in April, deteriorated into rioting that left two people dead, more than 120 injured and buses burned on major thoroughfares. The army was called in to quash the unrest.

“Their image last year was very negative in people’s views. They were defeated then, but this year they have improved in terms of the nonviolent movement,” said Prinya Thewanaruemitkul of the Law Faculty at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. “We have to give them some credit for not using violent means.”

“The blood-pouring stunt might not get them points,” he said, but added: “If they are looking at a long-term fight, they’re not losing. It’s more like they’re gaining.”

The Red Shirts draw most of their support from Thailand’s rural areas, which benefited from Mr. Thaksin’s pro-poor policies. But they also drew cheers from some Bangkok residents Wednesday as they marched to Mr. Abhisit’s house.

“These people represent the majority of Thais,” said Chavalita Nittayasomboon, a 29-year-old office worker. “They might not be educated, but they have their dreams of having a better quality of life.”

Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone and Kinan Suchaovanich and photographer David Longstreath contributed to this report.

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