Protests … a Buddhist monk wears a mask as a protection against tear gas. Photo: AFP
BANGKOK: The organiser of an anti-government rally in Bangkok has quit his protest movement after an eight-hour rally left 61 people injured, 137 arrested and drew a lower than expected turnout.
''I have lost to evil,'' said retired army general Boonlert Kaewprasit, who earlier had called on the army to stage a coup to oust the Thai government.
Authorities had stopped many people who wanted to protest from reaching the rally on Saturday, said Mr Boonlert.
Police put the number of protesters at about 10,000 but many of them left as police twice fired tear gas to disperse crowds. This was far short of Mr Boonlert's hope of one million.
Violence erupted when some protesters demanded police open wire and concrete barricades to reach the rally at Bangkok's historic Royal Plaza, near parliament house. Police had instructed them to take another route to the area where they had set up checkpoints. Police claimed protesters had attacked them with flagpoles and had edged trucks into police lines, injuring several.
The protest showed that simmering political tensions remain in Thailand after a coup that ousted the government of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. Mr Thaksin, who remains a divisive figure in Thai politics , is living in exile to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption.
Saturday's rally was the biggest since Mr Thaksin's younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra was swept into power at national elections in July last year.
Ms Yingluck had warned that Mr Boonlert's royalist Pitak Siam (Protect Thailand) movement was trying to overthrow the government and invoked a special security law to give security forces more power to deal with trouble.
Pitak Siam is linked to the ''Yellow Shirt'' movement that occupied Bangkok's international airport for a week in 2008. Political tensions remain high as opposition parties are due to debate a non-confidence motion against the government this week.