Page last updated at 04:15 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 05:15 UK

Thai protesters gather in Bangkok

By Alastair Leithead
BBC Asia correspondent, Bangkok


Thai protesters gather in Bangkok to present a petition to the royal household

Thousands of political demonstrators have gathered in Bangkok in the first mass action since the violence that erupted in the city in April.

Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, wearing red shirts, were to present a petition to a representative of the royal household.

They say more than five million people have signed it, asking the king to pardon Mr Thaksin.

He was convicted on conflict of interest charges and now lives abroad.

The thousands of demonstrators are a reminder that the deep-rooted political divide in Thailand, which fuelled the violence of April and brought tens of thousands out on to the streets, has not gone away.

The protesters say the five million petition signatures are an indication of the huge level of support for Mr Thaksin.

He has been unable to return to Thailand since the conviction but has stirred up the crowds at anti-government political rallies through telephone calls and video links.

Thaksin Shinawatra, file image
Royalists see Mr Thaksin's popularity as a threat to the monarchy

Many of his supporters from the poor rural north and north-east of Thailand are angry at the way their opposing yellow-shirted protesters forced political change by blockading Bangkok's international airports last year and yet have not been punished.

Current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power with the backing of the yellow shirts, has warned the protesters not to resort to violence.

But an unconnected corruption case at the Supreme Court against a senior government figure is expected to attract an opposing group of demonstrators in the same part of the city, so police have been deployed to prevent clashes between the two sides.

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