Reluctant retiree new leader of Thailand's Red Shirts

Reluctant retiree new leader of Thailand's Red Shirts

A retired microbiology lecturer, mother and self-described middle-class intellectual is no obvious leader for Thailand's largely poor, rural and at times violent anti-government street movement.

The new head of the "Red Shirts", Thida Thavornseth, admits she never wanted the job and is quick to stress her independence from fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is widely thought to be the movement's driving force.

"I don't care anything about Thaksin," she said in English, with a laugh, when asked about the divisive figure, who is hated by the elite but supported by many Red Shirts for his policies before a military coup ousted him in 2006.

"Maybe the grassroots think differently from me," the 66-year-old told AFP. Sitting in her office, freshly painted in red at the organisation's headquarters inside a Bangkok shopping mall, Thida acknowledged her lack of public speaking experience and difficulties thinking of anything funny to say.

But despite her self-deprecation, she sees her non-violent, academic image as a good one for a movement weakened and fragmented after its April and May protests, during which more than 90 people died in clashes with armed troops.

"We will continue to rally but we have to be more careful so that it will not bring any damage," Thida said after being named acting chairwoman of the group, officially known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship

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