BANGKOK—"Save the Nation" read the sea of yellow visors, scarves and t-shirts worn by the masses of protesters who gathered Saturday night at Bangkok's King Rama V monument to call for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's resignation.
The giant rally, at which organizers expected some 100,000 people, came in response to a call two weeks ago by the prime minister's former friend turned arch-rival Sondhi Limthongkul.
Sondhi was host of the popular talk show "Thailand This Week" that was ordered off the air last September for apparently being too critical of Thaksin.
Since then, Sondhi has been marshalling a considerable anti-government following. Last month, he invited the nation to a join peaceful 24-hour rally on Feb. 4 and 5 to deliver a petition demanding the prime minister's resignation.
On the evening of Feb. 4, the anti-government crowd delivered two copies of a letter addressed to His Royal Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. One copy was given to General Prem Tinsulanonda, President of the Privy Council and Statesman, and the other to His Majesty's secretary.
Volunteers had arrived throughout the night to help set up for what they hoped would be a historic day. "I came last night and expect to be here until morning," said a cheerful Somyot, a Bangkok local manning the first aid booth.
Most of the medical supplies being prepared by Somyot and others were to combat heat and dehydration. "We expect today to be a peaceful protest," he added.
Ensuring that the day did not turn violent was a dominant theme of peace. Organizers repeatedly reminded the crowd to maintain the peace while some of the 4,500 police officers on hand distributed leaflets stating explicitly that the right to assemble was guaranteed under the law, however, it must be a nonviolent one and peace and order must be upheld.
"No, [I'm not worried]," remarked 40-year-old Pitak, a labor union deputy from Nakhon Pathom Province. "People are here for peace."
Roadblocks Prevent Some from Attending
Although organizers expected some 100,000 people, only approximately 40,000 appeared. One reason for the lower-than-hoped-for turnout was that many who intended to join the rally were thwarted from doing so.
Roadblocks were set up by Thai police starting the previous evening to prevent people from the countryside from entering the capital city.
"We had an obstacle coming in because of the police," remarked Bancha, who arrived at 4 a.m. from the northeastern province of Srisaket. Bancha traveled by bus with 50 other people from his area.
"[The police] wouldn't let us in at first," said Bancha, but then they let them pass when the group claimed they were coming for sightseeing.
Prior to the start of the rally, the prime minister told the press that he had no intention of resigning.