updated 3/16/2010 10:26:11 AM ET 2010-03-16T14:26:11

Thai protesters poured blood they had donated outside the front gate of the government headquarters Tuesday in a symbolic sacrifice to press their demands for new elections.

Thousands of red-shirted demonstrators formed long lines to have their blood drawn by nurses, a day after their leaders vowed to collect 1 million cubic centimeters of blood — 264 gallons — to spill at Government House.

A few teaspoons of blood were drawn from the veins of each volunteer and then transferred into dozens of large plastic water jugs that were passed overhead through the crowd of cheering protesters before being delivered to Government House, the prime minister's office.

Police allowed protest leaders to approach the white iron front gate and pour out the blood, which oozed under the gate as national television broadcast the images live.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has not entered his office at Government House since the protests started on Friday.

"The blood of the common people is mixing together to fight for democracy," Nattawut Saikua, one of the protest leaders, told cheering supporters.

"When Abhisit works in his office, he will be reminded that he is sitting on the people's blood."

A protest leader, Weng Tochirakarn, said by mid-afternoon they had collected 500,000 cubic centimeters of blood — half of their goal — from 50,000 protesters. Each donor is being asked to give only a small amount of blood. Not all the blood was spilled immediately.

'I think it's fine'
Protest leaders said the rest would be poured outside the headquarters of the ruling Democrat Party and the prime minister's house if the protest demands were not met.

Government spokesman Panitan Watanayagorn said authorities will allow the protest as long as it remains peaceful.

"If they want to throw it and have a photo op and have us clean it up later, I think it's fine," Panitan told a briefing of foreign media. He said health authorities were looking into whether "throwing blood on the streets violates health measures."

As many as 100,000 Red Shirt protesters converged Sunday on the Thai capital to demand that Abhisit agree to dissolve parliament by midday Monday. Abhisit refused and blanketed the capital with security, but said his government was open to listening to what else the protesters had to say.

The Red Shirts include supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other activists who oppose the 2006 military coup that ousted him for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Thaksin's popularity.

Video: Grenades explode during Thailand protests

Police Gen. Wichai Sangprapai said the number of demonstrators had dropped from Sunday, estimating that some 90,000 still remained in the capital.

Frustrated, the protest leaders announced the "blood sacrifice," a tactic slammed by the Red Cross as wasteful and unhygienic since diseases like hepatitis and HIV-AIDS can be spread if needles are reused. Protest leaders insisted they would use new needles for each person.

"This blood belongs to fighters for democracy. What is its color? Red!" an announcer shouted as protest leaders were having their blood drawn Tuesday morning on a stage near a white tent where lines of blood donors formed.

Several orange-robed Buddhist monks, who are forbidden by law from taking part in political activities, were among the first in line with one proudly showing off a syringe filled with his blood.

"I believe (in our leaders) and find their strategies rational and acceptable. If they say that we soldier on, I'm ready," said Suriya Laemthong, 28, who said he had a fear of needles and shielded his eyes with a baseball cap and hand as a nurse pricked his arm. But Suriya said he doubted that the blood spilling would compel the government to step down.

On Monday, thousands of protesters departed from their encampment in downtown Bangkok to besiege an army base on the edge of the capital where Abhisit has partly been based during the protests.

Soldiers wounded by grenades
Elsewhere, two soldiers were wounded Monday by four grenades that exploded inside the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment, known as the King's Own Bodyguard, army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. He did not blame Red Shirt demonstrators.

The protests have to date been remarkably peaceful although embassies have issued warnings to their nationals of possible violence and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell canceled a scheduled visit Tuesday.

Panitan, the spokesman, said the majority of protesters appear to have peaceful intentions, but authorities have identified about 3,000 people "with a history of violence" who have "embedded themselves in the protest." He said authorities are following them closely.

Dr. Ubonwon Charoonruangrit, a senior official of the Thai Red Cross Society, worried about the risks of untrained people drawing blood, and added that such a large quantity of blood, if put to use, could "save many lives."

Thaksin has twice spoken to the demonstrators by video, urging them to continue their struggle in a nonviolent fashion.

Thaksin is a billionaire businessman who fled Thailand in 2008 ahead of a conviction on a conflict of interest charge for which he was sentenced to two years in jail.

Thailand has been in constant political turmoil since early 2006, when anti-Thaksin demonstrations began. In 2008, when Thaksin's political allies came back to power for a year, his opponents occupied the prime minister's office compound for three months and seized Bangkok's two airports for a week.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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