BANGKOK (AP) — Thousands of red-shirted protesters surging into the Thai capital from impoverished rural areas Saturday gave the government an ultimatum to "return power to the people" or face mass marches in key locations.
Traffic was light, businesses were shuttered and social events canceled in Bangkok as many feared the four-day demonstrations that begin Sunday would repeat past violence. But protesters stressed they would use only peaceful means in their quest for new elections.
"If the prime minister refuses to dissolve Parliament on Sunday, we will declare new measures. We are planning to march to key spots belonging to those in power," a protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said.
"We will ask (the prime minister) to return power to the people," he said.
Jatuporn said he expected a million people to gather by noon Sunday. By nightfall Saturday, it did not appear that such a number could be mustered.
The protesters arriving in the sprawling capital throughout the day had traveled in trucks, buses and motorcycles from the Thai countryside.
In Wang Noi, to the north of the city, a line of protesters in vehicles stretched about four miles (seven kilometers) along a highway as security personnel slowly searched the arrivals. Traffic jams on the highway began as far as 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the city.
There were no reports of violence Saturday, and Jatuporn even praised authorities for facilitating the protesters' easy entry into the capital.
Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said protesters were being provided with free bus rides from provincial areas to Bangkok.
A force of 50,000 soldiers, police and other security personnel was mobilized in the capital area.
The march is regarded by some as the last chance for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand.
The "Red Shirt" protesters, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, are made up of followers of Thaksin, along with other people who oppose the 2006 military coup that toppled him.