BANGKOK — Hundreds of anti-government activists carried roses to prisons around Thailand on Friday to show their support for jailed colleagues and begin a series of protests marking the fourth anniversary of a military coup.
The "Red Shirt" supporters have been generally quiet since the army quashed large demonstrations earlier this year in Bangkok’s main commercial district. About 90 people died during those protests, more than 1,400 were hurt, and most of the group’s top leaders were arrested.
Bangkok remains under a state of emergency imposed in April, and the government has warned against possible violence during this week’s demonstrations. Soldiers were deployed at many locations in the capital last week.
"This laying of red roses is to express our concern for our people who are detained unfairly," said Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader who escaped detention because of his immunity as a member of Parliament.
"We come in peace, we come with concern, and then we’ll leave in peace. We have no intention to use violence," Jatuporn said outside Bangkok Special Prison. A crowd of several hundred chanted, "Red Shirts, Fight!"
Most of the Red Shirts support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the Sept. 19, 2006, coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for Thailand’s king. The army acted after a series of protests and court rulings nearly paralyzed Thaksin’s ability to govern.
The coup has sharply polarized Thai society. Many of Thaksin’s supporters come from the rural poor who benefited from his social welfare policies and remain bitter over his ouster through undemocratic means.
Many of his opponents, including members of the urban middle class and elite, see him as a threat to democracy and view his populist brand of politics as a danger to their own privileges.
The main protest on Sunday’s anniversary of the coup is to take place in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thaksin’s hometown and a Red Shirt stronghold.
Thaksin is living in exile abroad after fleeing in 2008 ahead of a corruption conviction.
According to the Red Shirts, 252 of their supporters and leaders are detained in 17 prisons around the country.