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Updated: Sun, 24 Nov 2013 22:21:18 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Thai anti-government protesters stage massive rally



Anti-government protesters hold national flags and chant slogans in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. (© AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Anti-government protesters hold national flags and chant slogans in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) Sakchai Lalit/The Associated Press

About 100,000 anti-government demonstrators rallied in Thailand's capital on Sunday, demanding that the prime minister step down amid claims that her government is controlled by her older brother, ousted former Prime Minister ThaksinShinawatra.

The peaceful rally, led by former opposition lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, appeared to be the largest staged by Thaksin's opponents in several years.

Protests cause disruptions

Organizers are looking for the rally to continue overnight and cause maximum disruption on Monday, when demonstrators are supposed to march all over Bangkok. The protesters say they want to topple the "Thaksin regime," which is how they refer to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have battled for power since a 2006 military coup ousted the former prime minister, who was toppled following street protests accusing him of corruption and disrespect for the country's constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for the past five years to avoid a prison sentence on a corruption conviction.

The battle for power has sometimes led to blood being spilled in the streets, and there is fear that the latest round of protests, which started last month, could lead to a renewal of serious political instability, after two years of relative calm under Yingluck's government.

Police estimated that around 75,000 people had arrived at the main rally site by mid-afternoon Sunday, with the total appearing to surpass 100,000 by evening.

"The government is part of the Thaksin regime, but the Thaksin regime has planted its roots deeply in Thailand already," Suthep told The Associated Press. "It's a self-centered system that does not follow the law."

Suthep accused Thaksin of abusing human rights, corruption and interfering with government officials.

Protest organizers said they would march to 12 different Bangkok locations on Monday, including the headquarters of the police and the different branches of the armed forces, and the five television broadcast stations controlled by the military or the government.

Protests promised to be peaceful

Suthep promised that Monday's march would be peaceful and law-abiding. Suthep and several fellow lawmakers from the opposition Democrat Party recently resigned their parliamentary seats in order to try to avoid their party bearing legal liability from actions taken during the street protests.

"We will tell the government officials to stop serving the Thaksin regime and stand by the people's side instead," Suthep said. "We will also march to tell the media to report news with neutrality, without distortion and not to serve the government. They must give people the truth."

Special peace-keeping command spokesman police Maj. Gen. Piya Uthayo said earlier that intelligence reports indicated that the protesters would move to surround key Bangkok locations, including the prime minister's office and Parliament.

Suthep had also suggested that sympathizers in public utility jobs might cut water and electricity to government offices and top officials.

A smaller group of about 30,000 pro-government Red Shirt demonstrators gathered Sunday to support Yingluck's administration.

Amnesty effort abandoned

The latest round of street demonstrations was triggered in October by a government-backed bill that could have granted amnesty to Thaksin, who is seeking to return home without serving a two-year jail sentence for corruption, a conviction that he says was politically inspired. He now lives mainly in Dubai, but is seen as still being in control of his political machine.

The new protests forced the government to abandon the amnesty effort, at least temporarily.

Yingluck's administration suffered another political defeat last week when the country's Constitutional Court ruled illegal a bill backed by her government amending the constitution to mandate that all, rather than half, the members of the Senate be directly elected.

The Democrat Party is vastly outnumbered by the absolute majority held by Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party, but it is seeking to pressure Yingluck's government through several extra-parliamentary means, including impeaching its lawmakers. However, it will also lead a no-confidence debate in the lower house this week.

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