Thai Red Shirts continue mass protests

Protesters targeted Thailand’s
elections watchdog, at one point storming its office, while ignoring orders to
leave Bangkok’s main shopping district for a third day in an increasingly bold
rally to force elections.

The protesters in the election
office later dispersed, but tens of thousands of the red-shirted demonstrators,
supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, remained encamped in a
district of luxury hotels and department stores.

The “red shirts” accused
the Election Commission of stalling in an investigation of alleged
irregularities by Prime Minister Vejjaji Abhisit’s Democrat Party and set a
deadline on Monday for the Election Commissioner to answer their questions in
person after thousands of protesters gathered outside the building.

When he failed to show, hundreds
swarmed into a ground-floor hallway but were blocked by police and repelled
into compound grounds. They eventually left after police gave assurances the
Election Commission would hear the case on 20 April.

Instead of fizzling out, as many
expected, the protests are growing more confrontational and more disruptive to
life in politically powerful Bangkok, whose middle and upper classes wield
tremendous power in Abhisit’s Democrat Party.

He had sought help from the
judiciary to evict the protesters from the downtown area, but a court on
rejected his request for a legal order to remove them, saying he already had
such power under a tough Internal Security Act imposed last month.

The “red shirts” say Abhisit
has no popular mandate and came to power illegitimately, heading a coalition
with tacit military support after courts dissolved a pro-Thaksin party that led
the previous government.

Abhisit says he was voted into office
by the same parliament that picked his Thaksin-allied predecessors.

While he remains backed by the
military and establishment elite, some members of Abhisit’s own party say he
needs to take a more proactive role in handling the protest and defusing tension.
Others say he needs to make further concessions.