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‘Red Shirts’ take to streets to win over Thai capital

Thousands of red-clad Thai protesters began to snake across Bangkok on Saturday in a festive travelling rally aimed at winning over the city’s residents to their flagging anti-government campaign.
Police said around 20,000 “Red Shirts” joined the convoy across the capital in pick-up trucks, buses, cars and on motorcycles after they rejected a conditional offer of talks by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva a day earlier.
The group planned to zig-zag along 45 kilometres (28 miles) of Bangkok’s main roads bearing flags, smiles and music, in an attempt to recruit residents to their waning rally calling for elections, now into its seventh day.

Backers of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the Reds - mainly from poor rural areas - say they are fighting Thailand’s elites in bureaucratic, military and palace circles, whom they accuse of ousting elected governments.
The protesters say Abhisit’s government is illegitimate because it came to power with army backing via a December 2008 parliamentary vote, after a controversial court ruling removed Thaksin’s allies.
“We will travel to find love from the people of Bangkok and to unite them with us, the poor peasants, to overthrow the elite-backed government,” protest leader Veera Musikapong told the crowds before their convoy set off.

Protest numbers peaked at more than 100,000 last Sunday and have so far been peaceful, but army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said he worried “there could be some clashes” Saturday.
The protesters picketed an army base on Monday and on Wednesday threw bags of their blood at the walls of the prime minister’s family home after staging the same stunt at his office a day earlier.
But the premier has stood firm in his rejection of the protesters’ demand for elections, and said talks could only take place once the rally had dispersed.

Since Thaksin was ousted, Thailand has been rocked by protests by both his supporters and his opponents, many of whom are in Bangkok and accuse him of corruption and of disloyalty to the revered royal family.
Thai PM admitted his country is divided
Thousands of demonstrators are still camped out in Bangkok after a week of rallies which saw them daubing blood on the gates of Government House. But they number far fewer than those who gathered at the start of this week.

Speaking to the BBC from a military base, Abhisit said he had offered to meet leaders of the red-shirt movement to talk about their grievances.
The prime minister appeared confident and pleased with the way he had handled the demonstration so far, but admitted the country was divided, and not just between the cities and the rural areas.
“I’m saying that the divisions do run deep, and that political differences occur in a democracy,” he said. “But we have to stick to the rule of law.”
“We try to make sure that we can somehow move this country forward in terms of political conflicts, so that they can be resolved through the ballot box and also through the court procedures, depending on the issues, and that all governments must try to address the issues that are of concern to urban and rural people alike.”
- AFP/BBC news


Gazans wounded in Israeli strike

At least 11 people have been injured in an Israeli air strike at an airport in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical officials and witnesses said.
The strike targeted Gaza’s defunct international airport, located near the town of Rafah, late on Friday, witnesses said.
The Israeli army told Al Jazeera that the attack targeted “a terror site” and said its pilots confirmed that the target was hit.
It also confirmed that it hit two smuggling tunnels and a weapons manufacturing site in another strike 24 hours earlier.
Al Jazeera’s Casey Kauffman, reporting from Gaza, said Israel called the strike a reaction to rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel a day earlier.
“It’s the second night of attacks in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
“The Israelis say it is in retaliation for the rocket attack, but the group that claimed responsibility for the attack on Israel says the rocket attack is in reaction to what’s perceived as Israeli aggression and provocation in the West Bank.”
The two days of strikes come amid the backdrop of clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Al Jazeera)