BANGKOK–Tens of thousands of protesters flowed into Bangkok over the weekend, setting up what organizers say will be several days of protests to force Thailand’s army-backed government to call fresh elections and vividly demonstrating the continuing pull of Thailand’s ousted leader, former telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thrown out of power in a military coup in 2006 and now living overseas to avoid imprisonment on a corruption conviction, Mr. Thaksin, 60 years old, dominates the mass protests amid the shimmering, gilded Buddhist temples of Bangkok’s old-town. Bands of demonstrators marched across the city wearing red T-shirts bearing his image, paralyzing traffic. Street vendors hawked DVDs of his speeches. Countless banners declared devotion to his cause. Police estimated that by Sunday 150,000 people will gather to demand that army-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call fresh elections, threatening to bring this bustling Southeast Asian capital to a standstill.
Tens of thousands more demonstrators are still on their way to Bangkok, including thousands of people riding boats down the country’s storied Chao Phraya river, in a carefully orchestrated show of force against what the protesters say are the antidemocratic forces that control Thailand: the armed forces and the country’s traditional bureaucratic elites.