- Posted June 23, 2010 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Crisis in Bangkok
Thai people in the Royal Cremation of Khattiya Sawasdipol
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
Thousands of Thai "Red Shirts" turned out Tuesday for the cremation of a rogue general shot during opposition protests, staging their biggest gathering since the army quashed their rally last month.
Over 800 police officers were deployed to oversee the ceremony for Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, an unofficial security adviser to the Red Shirts who was shot in the head while being interviewed by a foreign reporter.
It remains unclear who killed the outspoken general. His supporters say he was targeted by a sniper, but the army has denied any involvement.
Thousands of mourners massed at a temple close to the heart of Bangkok's government district ahead of the cremation, some wearing T-shirts bearing the image of the slain general, better known by his nom-de-guerre Seh Daeng.
Saowaros Songcharoen, a 58-year-old housewife from Ayutthaya Province in central Thailand, said she could not forgive the government for the bloodshed.
"They have stamped on democracy," she said, proudly showing a picture of herself and the general on her mobile telephone. "If our generation cannot win, our children will carry on fighting."
Police said up to 10,000 Red Shirts were expected for the evening ceremony, but they were hopeful it would pass peacefully.
Most of the top Red Shirt leaders are in jail or wanted on terrorism charges for their roles in the two-month-long mass rally that ended with a deadly army crackdown on the demonstrators' encampment in central Bangkok on May 19.
The Red Shirts were campaigning for elections they hoped would oust the government, which they view as undemocratic because it came to power with the backing of the army after a court ruling threw out the previous administration.
Ninety people died and nearly 1,900 were injured in clashes between security forces and protesters in Bangkok, which has been calm for the past month.
Rekindling jitters in the city, however, a blast occurred Tuesday outside the headquarters of a political party that belongs to the ruling coalition.
Police were waiting to question an injured man who was suspected of being behind the explosion, which was apparently caused by a makeshift bomb inside a gas canister. No one else was hurt.
Bangkok is still under emergency laws banning public gatherings of more than five people but police did not try to stop Red Shirts paying their last respects to Khattiya.
Despite his difficult relationship with the state, he was to be given a royal cremation in recognition of his senior army rank.
The 58-year-old was suspended from duty in January and faced dismissal from the Thai army after a panel found him guilty of military crimes.
But he rose to prominence during the street protests and was often surrounded by autograph-seeking fans during his walks through the rally site, where vendors displayed his best-selling books about his jungle adventures.
He antagonised the authorities by expressing loyalty to the Red Shirts' hero, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and was accused of having a hand in dozens of unsolved grenade attacks in Bangkok.
Khattiya denied involvement in the violence, saying he concentrated on inspecting the barricades of fuel-soaked tyres, bamboo poles and razor wire that he helped to erect around the perimeter of the rally site.
After the Red Shirt leaders surrendered and asked their supporters to go home, enraged hardcore demonstrators went on a rampage of arson, setting fire to dozens of buildings around the capital.