AFP: New Thai Red Shirt leader warns of battle ahead

Red Shirt supporters shout slogans during a rally at a stadium in Bangkok. Photo: Christophe Archambault / AFP

A firebrand hardliner who was a core leader of Thailand’s Red Shirts in the country’s massive 2010 protests has been chosen to head the pro-government movement, saying Sunday that a “big fight” lay ahead.

Former MP Jatuporn Prompan, facing terrorism charges in an ongoing trial related to the 2010 uprising, told AFP that any new Red Shirt tactics would be “peaceful.”

“We have to discuss our strategy,” Jatuporn told AFP on Sunday. “The next battle will be big.”

He ruled out violence, saying that any new strategy would involve “no weapons”.

Jatuporn took the helm as chairman from previous Red Shirt leader Tida Tawornseth at a gathering of 10,000 supporters in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, on Saturday.

Bangkok has been rocked by months of mass protests calling for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step aside in favour of an unelected “people’s council” to tackle what opponents see as a culture of money-driven politics.

The backdrop is a longstanding struggle between a royalist establishment, backed by the judiciary and the military, and Yingluck’s billionaire family which has strong support in the northern half of Thailand.

Protests accuse Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra — a tycoon-turned-premier who was ousted from office by royalist generals in 2006 — of running the government from overseas, where he lives to avoid a jail term for corruption.

Yingluck currently faces charges of negligence from Thailand’s anti-corruption body which could lead to her being removed from office.

Her administration has limited caretaker powers because opposition demonstrators disrupted a general election last month.

But despite the government’s embattled situation, Jatuporn said the opposition, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, “cannot achieve success”.

“In 2006 they used a military coup. In 2007 and 2008 they used independent organisations like the constitutional court. Now they used a people’s revolution led by Suthep but it did not succeed,” Jatuporn said.

After bringing parts of Bangkok to a standstill in a self-styled “shutdown,” the opposition protesters have now rowed back their presence, instead basing themselves in Lumpini Park.

The current crisis has led to a spike in political violence, often targeting protesters, which has left 23 people dead and hundreds wounded.

The unrest is the worst since Thaksin-allied Red Shirt anti-government rallies in 2010 sparked clashes and a bloody military crackdown in which more than 90 people died.

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