BANGKOK — Thousands of demonstrators remained encamped in the historic heart of the Thai capital Thursday, vowing to engage in "class warfare" until the government is ousted.
A 2,000-vehicle protest rally through the streets of Bangkok was planned for Saturday, but Thursday appeared to be a rest day after four days of mass demonstrations and shock tactics like the pouring of human blood at the home of the prime minister and the seat of government.
Leaders of the "Red Shirt" protesters, who want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call new elections, said Wednesday they would scale back the size of their demonstrations in order to conserve energy and resources.
The decision to stay encamped in Bangkok is meant to keep up the pressure on Abhisit, who already has rejected several of the protesters' deadlines to dissolve Parliament.
"It is the beginning of class war," said Natthawut Saikua, among the protest leaders who have increasingly portrayed the demonstrations as a struggle between Thailand's impoverished, mainly rural masses and a Bangkok-based elite impervious to their plight.
The protesters also consist of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
"I'm asking you to be patient for one more week. We will achieve true democracy and better lives for Thais all over the country. I understand that you must be tired, hot and hungry. Be patient for another seven days for our children's future," Thaksin told his supporters via a video link Wednesday night.
Newspaper reports said Thaksin would be returning to his base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after a trip to Europe.
On Wednesday, red-shirted protesters hurled plastic bags filled with their own blood into Abhisit's residential compound, following similar protests the day before at his office and the headquarters of his Democrat Party.
Several thousand later gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy, saying they wanted to tell the international community that their government is illegitimate.
The blood-spilling tactic – said to show the willingness of the common people to sacrifice themselves for their cause and their nation – grabbed attention, but put the Red Shirt movement no closer to its goal of forcing new elections.
More than 100,000 demonstrators converged on the capital Sunday, and organizers boasted that they would topple the government within days. But the crowd shrank Wednesday to around 40,000, according to Maj. Gen. Vichai Sangparpai, a metropolitan police commander.
After a strategy meeting, the Red Shirt leaders said they would keep up their presence in an old part of Bangkok that is a traditional venue for political demonstrations.
The group also reaffirmed its commitment to nonviolence, and announced it is breaking ties with allies who had made high-profile threats of attacks on government officials and institutions.
The strategy mirrors that of the group's political rivals, the Yellow Shirts, who camped out in Bangkok's streets for 193 days in 2008 to try to force two pro-Thaksin prime ministers from power. The Yellow Shirts, also known as the People's Alliance for Democracy, occupied the prime minister's office for three months and seized Bangkok's two airports for a week. In the end, the Thaksin allies were forced from office by the courts on legal grounds.
The Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, have avoided violence, which was widely feared ahead of the protest.
Their last major protest in Bangkok, in April, deteriorated into rioting that left two people dead, more than 120 injured and buses burned on major thoroughfares. The army was called in to quash the unrest.
"Their image last year was very negative in people's views. They were defeated then, but this year they have improved in terms of the nonviolent movement," said Prinya Thewanaruemitkul of the Law Faculty at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "We have to give them some credit for not using violent means."
"The blood-pouring stunt might not get them points," he said, but added: "If they are looking at a long-term fight, they're not losing. It's more like they're gaining."
The Red Shirts draw most of their support from Thailand's rural areas, which benefited from Thaksin's pro-poor policies. But they also drew cheers from some Bangkok residents Wednesday as they marched to Abhisit's house.
Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone and Kinan Suchaovanich, and photographer David Longstreath contributed to this report.