Thailand's 'Red Shirts' urge release of colleagues
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 2:52 AM
BANGKOK -- Seven recently freed leaders of Thailand's anti-government "Red Shirt" movement called Sunday for the release of more than 180 of their colleagues who remain jailed since a violent military crackdown last year.
The seven gathered for a ceremony at Bangkok's Wat Pathuwanaram temple, where six people were fatally shot last year as the army swept demonstrators from the streets to end weeks of mass protests that shook the city and left nearly 90 people dead.
"We are trying our best to get all our friends in jail released," said Weng Tojirakarn, who was among seven Red Shirt leaders freed on bail Tuesday by Thailand's Criminal Court.
Freedom for the group's leaders met one of their key demands and appeared part of a government move aimed at easing tensions ahead of an election due to be called by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva later this year.
The Red Shirts have nevertheless vowed to stage another large rally on March 12 - the anniversary of the start of last year's mass protests, which shut down swathes of the city including major shopping malls and hotels, and ended with more around 1,400 people injured.
Karom Polthaklang, a lawyer for the Red Shirts, told The Associated Press that 184 of its members or supporters were still being detained across the country. He said getting them freed was a priority.
The seven leaders freed Tuesday had been detained on terrorism charges since surrendering to the government May 19.
Many Red Shirt protesters are poor, rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the country's constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Their rallies have highlighted a divide between Thailand's rich, ruling, urban elite and the poor who had long silently complained of being overlooked by society.
Abhisit's government is currently facing rival anti-government protests by smaller groups of Red Shirt supporters and the so-called "Yellow Shirts," an ultra-nationalist group that has gathered outside the prime minister's office since January to demand the Cabinet's resignation.
Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report.