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Thailand's red shirts ponder next move

Thailand's red shirts have steered clear of the recent round of anti-government protests, but are watching carefully and say they'll move in if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is removed or the military stages a coup d'etat.

BANGKOK: Thailand's United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), colloquially known as the red shirts, have stayed in the background as their political foes led by Suthep Thaugsuban took over seven key Bangkok locations this week.

The country hangs in limbo until the February 2nd elections, which could result in a deeper political stalemate.

The anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) is calling for sweeping reforms before the polls but gave no information on what they propose.

Red shirt leaders say that despite this call, Suthep, as the leader of the PDRC is commonly known, only has one main goal -- to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

"He wants to change the rules," said chairperson of the UDD, Thida Thawonseth, on Suthep. "He does not care about the postponing the election or even reformation; all they want is the power to have the new prime minister."

The red shirts have rallied and gathered in closed spaces like Rajamangala Stadium and various places outside of Bangkok to minimise contact and conflict with the other side.

Fear of a clash between red shirts and the current Bangkok protesters has not materialized largely due to the policy by the red shirts of being non confrontational. However, it doesn't mean that tensions aren't there -- upcoming events like the election and its aftermath could quickly turn violent.

Many red shirts believe that Suthep's tactics are in order to prompt the Thai army to step in and take control.

"If there is a coup or a seizure of power from this government, I think our red shirt comrades in large numbers across Thailand will all come out in full force," said Krirkmontri Rujsodtirapath, secretary-general of the UDD. "And it could turn out to be a civil war for sure."

At one of the protest sites meanwhile, people seemed aware of the potential of the clashes.

"At the moment we know that some red shirts are impatient and want to come out to instigate trouble," said Anand, a PDRC supporter. "But most people are against the use of force."

Still others see common ground between the groups, only a difference in tactics.

"I think both sides want something similar -- change -- one wants reform, another wants election," said Pui, another PDRC supporter. "The differences may be the level of violence."

Change is on its way to the kingdom, but there's no telling what shape it will take just yet.

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