As readers can imagine, there is lots of news to follow at present. Here we present some summaries of those that caught our eye. Readers might want to follow the links for more details.
Abhisit meets the king: The Nation (9 March 2010) reported the royal audience and dissembling or revision. It was earlier clear that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made a special visit. Now The Nation says: “There was no official word on the meeting, particularly what was discussed, but it was understood that the simmering political situation was included in Abhisit’s routine briefing to the King.” Hardly a routine visit. By the way, aren’t there health regulations about dogs in hospitals?
Some have suggested that Abhisit postponed his trip to Australia following the meeting with the king. That seems not to fit the timeline of events.
Fears expressed and made: In the report cited above, Abhisit continues to share his rumors with the ever eager media. This time he reveals that unnamed “people” have been calling him – who has his number apart from colleagues and friends? – and “told me a lot of military fatigues were bought at the Chatuchak Market and bullets at gun shops in the Phahurat area were sold out. Water pipes were also bought to make guns…”. It may be true, but why is the country’s leader spreading unverified rumor? To instill fear and loathing perhaps?
Meanwhile, and along the same lines, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban states: “Our intelligence shows that many of the [red shirt] groups show a tendency to use violence…”. He also claimed that “some of the red shirts planned to besiege government offices and residences of important figures, like Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda.” He added that “many groups were likely to ‘operate’ … [and] threaten normal life and the welfare of city residents.”
Just for good measure, The Nation (9 March 2010) reports that the Democrat Party-led Bangkok administration has stated that it fears grenade attacks during the rallies. Why do they have this fear? The answer seems to be that Prime Minister Abhisit “informed them about intelligence pointing to violence in the capital.” That intelligence apparently concludes that there will be “bomb attacks in at least two locations and grenades would be thrown at 30-40 locations, particularly ‘important places’.” The police are reported as expecting “worse violence than before.” PPT assumes they mean worse than the Songkhran Uprising last year for there’s been no violence at red shirt rallies since then.
There are also a myriad of rumors being spread by email and text messages. The Nation reports on university students receiving warnings of a big riot and urging them to “stock up on food and to withdraw money from banks.” PPT has received similar emails, usually forwarded from unknown sources that have all kinds of advice for Bangkokians on how to oppose the red shirts.
The Nation in full froth: The Nation (9 March 2010) is in full panic mode, frothing over the upcoming red shirt rally. It expects a “huge” rally and comes up with the idea that the red rally is “Maoist tactics of the ‘forest surrounding the town’…”. That should cause apoplexy amongst the already frightened middle class who tend to see the red shirts as a Khmer Rouge-like danger.
Overthrowing the royalist government: In the same report, red shirt leader Nattawut Saikua is quoted as saying that “low-rank military officers from the lower class and grass-roots would work to help the red shirts topple the aristocrat-backed government.” He adds: “We call it the watermelon army – meaning they wear a green uniform but have a red heart inside. They will come out to help us…”.
The red shirts have circulated an email in English to various people and groups in Bangkok headed “A Message to the Good People of Bangkok and International Communities.” It says, in part: “On Friday the 12th of March, a campaign aimed at ending the age of the Thai military dictatorship and restoring freedom, democracy and justice to our beautiful nation will begin. At this very moment, hundreds of thousands of people from all across our country not already in Bangkok are preparing to make their way to the capital, in defiance of a regime that has proven its willingness to commit violence and strip away the human rights of those who speak against it.”
On the red shirt beliefs, it says this: “These people are united by a few key beliefs. The belief in our constitutional monarchy. The belief in the power of non-violent change. The belief in double-standards-free justice. And the belief that, as Thai citizens, they deserve to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. These people are united under the banner of the … UDD. And they are not to be feared- because if you believe in these things, then you are one of them as well.”
Recognizing the fear of people in Bangkok, it says: “We are convinced that for the coming struggle we need no guns, bullets or blades, but only solidarity and sincerity in our hearts. We have learned from the mistakes of the past, and will allow no repeat of them. We will stand together, we will remain vigilant against troublemakers, and we will take care to ensure that no foreigner is harmed or intimidated. We will stare defiantly down the barrels of the guns of the soldiers who remain loyal to the men who wish us to remain silent and submissive, and we will embrace with open arms those who wish to put down their weapons and join us.” The red shirts call on Bangkokians to join them in their struggle.
Internal Security Act: As expected, the royalist government has decided to use the Internal Security Act that puts the army in charge. The ISA is to be enforced from 11 to 23 March for all of Bangkok and Nonthaburi, and some districts in Pathum Thani, Samut Sakhon, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Chachoengsao and Ayutthaya.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep is reported in The Nation (10 March 2010) as referring to protesters wanting to “paralyse Bangkok traffic and some may even carry out violent actions, throwing grenades or burning down government buildings in a bid to provoke the use of force.”
Suthep also made the remarkable claim to cabinet that “the international intelligence community also agreed that the red shirts’ moves were undemocratic and that their protests could be regarded as terrorist acts.” PPT wonders which international intelligence sources Suthep has access to? Maybe the British as their ambassador Quinton Quayle, who has expressed his admiration for Abhisit, came out on television last night supporting the government. He’s reported in The Nation (10 March 2010) as having “yesterday expressed his concern over the red-shirt demonstration.” Presumably he won’t be chastised for interfering in domestic political affairs.
Meanwhile, PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey has been assigned to come up with a television program “on the state-run TV Channel 11 from 10pm to midnight to explain the security measures being taken.” Sathit is one who has a tendency to propagandize, so this will be an interesting intervention. While Channel 11 has limited viewers, it is nationwide and presumably bits of the program will be relayed via other channels as news.
Fleeing the country?: The Bangkok Post (10 March 2010) and The Nation (10 March 2010) have roughly the same headline but significantly different stories on what the Post headlines as “Shinawatras flee country before rally” and “Family said to fear being held hostage.” The Post says that “Members of Thaksin Shinawatra’s immediate family have left or are leaving the country ahead of this weekend’s rally by supporters of the fugitive former prime minister.” It says Potjaman and the three Shinawatra kids will have left by Wednesday night. The Nation’s headline is “Thaksin’s family not fleeing, but flying out.” It says only the two daughters will have left, on business in Zurich. It states: “Thaksin’s ex-wife Pojaman na Pombejra, their son Panthongtae, will remain in Thailand though they plan to leave the country soon…”.
Abhisit saw a political opportunity and in The Nation (10 March 2010) is reported as noting that it “was intriguing as they had done the same thing before last year’s Songkran mayhem.” Abhisit added: “I would like to ask the protesters to think carefully about what and for whom they are rising and fighting…”.
PPT is not entirely sure that this Songkhran Uprising is correct for that event, but recalls reports of some of them leaving. Readers may know better. Our record show PM’s Office Minister Sathit making this claim on 8 April 2009, but this was denied a day later, suggesting that only some members of the family had left and some even appeared at a red shirt rally in subsequent days.
In any case, why are the Shinawatra’s accused of “fleeing” but not, say, Newin Chidchob? The Nation says “de-factor leader of the Bhum Jai Thai party, has reportedly left for London where, according to Pheu Thai Party’s chief adviser Chalerm Yoobamrung, he has set up a war room to order a crackdown on the red shirts.” A party spokesman said he was only in London on a private visit. He visits while Shinawatra’s flee…. And when the premier and other government ministers are offered “safe houses,” presumably this is prudent rather than fleeing to safety (Bangkok Post, 10 March 2010).