Thai anti-government "red shirts" mobilised tens of thousands of supporters to seek the release of detained leaders on Saturday, underlining festering problems in the divided nation ahead of elections planned this year.
The largely rural and urban working class demonstrators defied a special security law to rally at three locations in Bangkok, including the Supreme Court, which is due to make a ruling on whether to grant bail to seven top leaders held on terrorism charges since violent protests last April and May.
Police said some 30,000 people had gathered by early evening in what was the red shirts' fourth big rally this year. It comes ahead of an election a deputy prime minister on Thursday said would take place before June.
The poll is unlikely to settle a long-running crisis in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy and analysts say it could lead to more instability if the result is disputed by groups for or against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's military-backed Democrat Party, which heads the current coalition.
There was a heavy police presence at the rally, during which the red shirts criticised the government over a state investigation into the 91 people killed during last year's crippling 10-week protests broken up by the military.
The probe into Thailand's worst political violence in recent history has so far been largely inconclusive. The red shirts claim troops were instructed to kill the demonstrators and have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to carry out its own investigation.
Thailand has not ratified the ICC's Rome Statute, meaning the ICC has no jurisdiction. However, red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan told the crowd that Abhisit could be investigated, claiming the premier held both British and Thai nationality.
The British-born Abhisit told Thai television on Saturday he was a Thai citizen and was classed as a foreign student while at Britain's Eton College and Oxford University. However, he did not explicitly deny holding dual nationality.
The red shirt protest moved to the city's Democracy Monument, close to a rally by rival "yellow shirts", another anti-government group demonstrating since Jan. 25.
The ultra-nationalist yellow shirts, whose protests since 2005 have helped to topple two government's led or backed by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- the figurehead of the red shirts -- were once allies of Abhisit but now want him to resign, accusing him of losing Thai sovereignty to Cambodia.
Thailand's opposition party, Puea Thai, remains largely under Thaksin's control, despite him being in exile, and is seen as a serious election contender in what is expected to be a close race with Abhisit's Democrats. Neither party is expected to win a majority and alliances with smaller parties could dictate which party leads the government.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 19 Şubat 2011, 14:45