1 Dec 2008

Thai government supporters hold rally

4:43 pm on 1 December 2008

Tens of thousands of government supporters have held a rally in Bangkok, their first major show of strength since anti-government protestors took over the city's airports.

Thai police ordered thousands of anti-government protesters to end their siege of the city's airports, restricting public gatherings and warning that offenders would be jailed or fined.

At least 30,000 government supporters had gathered by 9pm local time, most wearing the red that is associated with their cause. They carried Thai flags, red flags and red heart signs with Mr Thaksin's picture.

Suvarnabhumi International airport and the city's domestic hub, Don Muang, have been paralysed by the sieges, stranding 100,000 tourists.

Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech said the crisis could cut economic growth to 2% from 4.9% in 2007, the Bangkok Post said.

The People's Alliance for Democracy says this is a necessary price to pay for evicting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whom they accuse of being a front for his brother-in-law, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile.

Mr Thaksin remains hugely popular among Thailand's poor, and thousands of them streamed into Bangkok on Sunday for a rally organised by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship.