By Jinda Wedel and Todd Pitman ,AP
BANGKOK — Tens of thousands of supporters of Thailand’s beleaguered prime minister rallied Saturday on the outskirts of Bangkok, a move aimed at countering months of anti-government protests and a spate of legal challenges that could bring down Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration.
The last time pro-government “Red Shirts” gathered en masse, at a stadium in the capital in November, shooting broke out nearby and five people were killed.
The Red Shirts have avoided rallying in Bangkok since then to avert bloodshed, and the current three-day gathering is being held dozens of kilometers (miles) from downtown Bangkok, on the western edge of the sprawling metropolis, for the same reason.
Thailand has been shaken by more than five months of anti-government protests that snowballed after the ruling party tried to ram an amnesty bill through Parliament that would have allowed Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by the army in a 2006 military coup, to return from self-imposed exile and avoid serving a jail sentence for corruption.
Although the number of anti-government protesters in Bangkok has dwindled dramatically in recent weeks, Yingluck and her government remain highly vulnerable to legal threats, which her supporters say have intensified since street protests failed to unseat her. Most analysts predict her administration will fall in a “judicial coup” because Thailand’s courts and independent state agencies are widely seen as biased against the Shinawatra political machine.
Speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands, Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan said anti-government protesters and the nation’s judicial institutions are trying “to take over power without elections …. We will fight if the country becomes undemocratic.”