Thai 'red shirts' protest and demand leaders' release

Thai anti-government demonstrators in Bangkok, Thailand, 23 January 2011 The red-shirts plan to keep up the pressure on the Thai government with regular protests

Anti-government "red-shirt" activists have protested in the Thai capital Bangkok, and called for the release of their imprisoned leaders.

Police say around 27,000 people marched peacefully from the site of last year's protests to Democracy Monument.

Nineteen of the group's leaders and dozens of supporters remain in detention after protests and clashes with security forces last year.

More than 90 people were killed in the violence and hundreds injured.

Sunday's demonstration marked the second big gathering by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) since the government lifted a state of emergency in Bangkok on 22 December.

Rallies to continue

A rally on 9 January in the upmarket central shopping district of Ratchprasong - an area blockaded and occupied by red-shirts last year - was followed by complaints and protests from local businesses and traders.

The traders are not happy about the potential loss of business through future demonstrations.

The Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association says more than 2,000 businesses lost 11bn baht ($362m; £226m) last year due to the red-shirt protest.

Dozens of buildings in the area were attacked and set on fire by militant protesters after the army crackdown.

The red-shirts agreed to spend only two hours in the area on Sunday before moving on. One of the leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, said the group was trying "to make less trouble for people who live and work around the protest sites".

At the rally on Sunday, Mr Jatuporn also announced that the group would only hold one demonstration a month, as opposed to the two which had been planned.

The latest protest shows the continuing strength of the movement, which draws much of its support from the rural and urban working class.

Many followers are also supporters of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006.

They say red-shirt activists involved in protests have been treated much worse than so-called "yellow-shirt" protesters involved in demonstrations against allies of Thaksin Shinawatra who were then in power.

The UDD also wants the completion of an inquiry into deaths during the protests.

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