BANGKOK -- It was billed by local media as the last stand of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra's red-shirted rural supporters against a bureaucratic elite that they claim rules Thailand as an "Orwellian state." But despite heightened fears of a "final battle," Sunday's mass protest has so far only set the stage for more political instability in the coming days and weeks.
The rally in Bangkok was called to protest a court seizure of the ousted premier's assets, a decision that dealt a blow to the grassroots movement Thaksin funds from exile. Fearing the worst, the Thai government made sweeping preparations for the estimated 100,000 red-shirts who descended on the capital over the weekend. With 50,000 riot troops on alert, the priority was to avoid a repeat of last April's "Bloody Songkran" (Thai New Year), when mobs overran an ASEAN summit, forcing its cancellation, and pitched battles in Bangkok's streets that left bodies bobbing up in the city's Chao Phraya river.
But as of Sunday night, a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed at the main rally site, with Thai rock bands playing on a giant stage and street-vendors sharing jokes and satay with protesters. Later, Thaksin spoke by video-link to a sea of red-shirts waving flags and blasting air horns, urging them from an unknown location in Europe to stay committed to the cause.