More than 10,000 "Red Shirt" supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra rallied Friday as organisers said that one million Thais had signed a petition asking for a royal pardon for the fugitive former premier.
The signatures were collected by red shirts going door to door nationwide. A final tally was to be announced at midnight, but in the early evening, red shirt leaders were saying they already had more than two million signatures.
Police said more than 10,000 people had gathered at the Sanam Luang parade ground in downtown Bangkok by late afternoon. Nearly 3,000 police were at the rally site, police commander Lieutenant General Worapong Chiewpreecha said.
Thaksin fled Thailand last August to escape a two-year jail term for corruption. His backers aim to gather the signatures to be presented directly to the office of the country's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
'The law says we must submit it to the Justice Ministry and it will further the process, but the government perceives us as the enemy so we don't think it will proceed if we do that,' UDD strategist Kokaew Pikulthong told The Straits Times at the rally.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in December, on Thursday warned Thaksin's supporters against signing the petition.
"The royal pardon should be his (Thaksin's) own individual initiative or that of his family members and it's not reached that stage because Thaksin has not yet served the sentence," Abhisit told reporters.
He stated that the government would check the name list requesting a royal pardon for former premier Thaksin for fear that people were tricked into signing the petition.
"Those who file the petition must take responsibility if they duped the people. We will take legal action if there is any irregularity,'' Abhisit said.
The red shirts would have to submit the petition through the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary, which is authorised to decide whether it could be lodged, he said.
Thaksin is currently being tried in absentia on a separate corruption charge relating to 2.2 billion dollars of funds that were frozen by an anti-graft body soon after the coup.
AFP, Thousands rally in Bangkok for Thaksin royal pardon, 1 August 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hS31HeMawNSNY5l60YEKb...
Bernama, Red Shirts Rally Seeking Royal Pardon For Thaksin, 31 July 2009, http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/newsworld.php?id=429359
The Nation, Govt to check names seeking royal pardon for Thaksin, 3 August, 2009, http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2009/08/03/politics/politics_30108906.ph...
The Straits Times, Thaksin support swells, 1 August 2009, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/SE%2BAsia/Story/STIStory_410...