Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated outside the home of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s top adviser today, accusing him of orchestrating the 2006 coup that toppled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The crowd clapped and cheered as protest leaders called for the resignation of Prem Tinsulanonda, an 88-year-old privy councillor.
Soldiers stood guard inside the compound and several rows of riot police blocked the street with barbed-wire barricades.
Estimates put the crowd between 40,000 and 200,000 people.
The protest is the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s four-month-old government, which became the fourth administration since the coup in a long-running political crisis that revolves around Thaksin.
The protesters say Thaksin was wrongfully removed and Abhisit – who was appointed by parliament in December – took power illegitimately and should step aside so parliament can be dissolved ahead of fresh elections.
Protesters have accused the country’s elite – the military, judiciary and Prem’s inner circle – of interfering in politics.
More than 4,000 police were deployed in the area, where protest leaders vowed to camp for three days. Army reinforcements were on standby and authorities have urged the general public to avoid the area.
Today’s rally came after a two-week sit-in outside Abhisit’s office, which at its peak drew 30,000 protesters.
Abhisit rejected the demands for his resignation and said he planned to carry on as usual.
Thaksin, who was removed amid accusations of corruption and abuse of power, has been addressing the protests via video link from exile. He fled the country last year before a court convicted him of abuse of power and sentenced him to two years in prison.
Most of Thaksin’s supporters are from the country’s poor rural majority, who benefited from his populist policies. They are known as “the red shirts,” for their favoured attire.
The protests are the latest episode in Thailand’s long-running political turmoil, a tug-of-war between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents.