Thailand's deep political divisions became evident again during a weekend anti-government rally. Clashes there led to dozens of arrests in accordance with previously imposed emergency laws.
The anti-government rally which took place in Thailand's capital city on Saturday, November 24, was the largest protest since the deadly protests between monarchy loyalists and pro-democracy supporters in 2010. It highlighted the on-going deep political divide in Thailand's politics.
Over a dozen foreign embassies had issued warnings and travel advisories urging their citizen to avoid travelling to central parts of Bangkok where the rally was held.
The protest was led by Boonlert Kaewprasit, a retired army general, and the group "Pitak Siam," or protect Thailand. General Boonlert had optimistically vowed to draw one million people keen to show their support for the crown and demand the overthrow of the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. In then end, a crowd of over 20,000 made their way to the Royal Plaza in central Bangkok in bad weather to participate in the rally. A number of vans and busses from outlying provinces were prevented or delayed by police road block searches from coming into the capital.
Days before the rally, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a nationally televised address announced the imposition of special crowd control laws under the Internal Security Act. Prime Minister Yingluck said the steps were being taken to "preserve law and order" and to "pre-empt and prevent" any violence.
In 2010, the capital saw months of anti-government protests which left over 90 people dead and hundreds wounded as violence broke out between so-called "Red Shirts" - supporters of Yingluck's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. Still the Pheu Thai Party's official leader, he has since been living overseas to avoid prosecution on charges of corruption.
The government said the rally had been expected to turn violent and that there had been plans to abduct the prime minister. Over 10,000 police from around the country were present in Bangkok for the rally. The pro-Thaksin grass roots support base, the United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship (UDD) also known as the Red Shirts, also vowed to come out onto the streets had the protests threatened the government.
Miss Pian Pinput, a rally coordinator, told DW the protest had been organized to demonstrate "true democracy."
"The government is purposely destroying their own country. We want to change to a new government who has a sense of morality; to a government that knows what it should do for its country," she said.
Sunai Pasuk, a spokesman for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told DW that Pitak Siam appeared to be against electoral democracy: "Pitak Siam clearly has a platform that is anti-electoral democracy; it is against having elected politicians representing people in the parliament, the platform is clear."
Lawyers of General Boonlert denied earlier reported comments that he had wanted to see the military take power or suspend electoral democracy for five years.
Early Saturday evening, amid tight security and a heavy thunderstorm and uncertainty over the rally's direction, General Boonlert called a halt to the protests. "General Boonlert is already dead. I have lost to evil," he told the crowds.
On Monday Prime Minister Yingluck announced a lifting of the internal security act as the thousands of police returned to their stations.
But the rally may prove to be a foretaste as Thailand's deep political divisions remain. The government hopes to pass amnesty and reconciliation laws in a bid to enable Thaksin to return home. Currently, the opposition democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is leading a no-confidence motion against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, which is expected to focus on the excessive force used on Saturday's protestors. The no-confidence vote will take place on Wednesday.