With 4 updates: A river of red

3 04 2010

The rally: A PPT reader happened to be down at Panthip Plaza around 11AM Saturday morning and has provided this report of the red shirt rally in the area. We produce this report below, with a little editing. This report is also available in German, here.

Phetburi Road is 6 or 7 lanes wide and both sidewalks were packed with the Red Shirt demonstrators walking, as well as in trucks, buses, tuk tuks, motorcycles.  Music playing, various chanting, horns honking, whistles, a sort of genial swarm of noticeably dark-skinned folks dressed in all kinds of red clothing, carrying bright red flags and signs.

Along each side of the road as well as crowding the overhead pedestrian bridges were thousands of Red supporters, probably immigrants from provincial areas, probably mostly the Northeast and North, who are working in Bangkok, mostly at menial jobs like cleaning, building, cooking, servicing. Food vendors were passing boxes of food to the demonstrators, people were handing out water bottles for the intense heat and sun, cheering, waving bits of red cloth and yelling encouragement. In the Panthip Plaza food court, most of the staff was over by the windows, smiling, waving and taking photos with their mobile phone cameras.

During the entire two hours or so I was wandering around the 5 or 6 floors of Panthip Plaza, the parade of Red demonstrators continued to flow along Phetburi Road. When I went outside again around 1PM, the sidewalks were so packed with the Red crowds that it was almost impossible to go anywhere so I just settled in a shady spot for another hour to watch them go by.

Most noticeable for me was that these sun-darkened, work-hardened faces of the provincial citizens of Thailand, some old, some children, most in their 30’s and 40’s, come to their capital to demand their rights, to demand a new election whose results will not be thrown out as were the last 3 elections, all of which their parties won. Their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins living and working in Bangkok were lining the streets showing their support. Along with thousands of Bangkok taxis, tuk tuks and tens of thousands of motorcycle taxis.

The river of Red flowed past me for a third hour with no end in sight until finally I managed to snake my way through the crowd to the Ratchatewi Sky Train stop. From the train platform, as far as I could see in both directions, the river had become a sea of Red.

How many people were in the crowd? The established Bangkok media keeps downplaying it. Associated Press reports a government figure of 55,000, but the government also plays down the real numbers. A hundred thousand, a hundred and fifty thousand? To me it seemed like hundreds and hundreds of thousands, the largest crowd or demonstration I have ever seen and that includes the Washington D.C./Pentagon anti-Vietnam War march back in the late 60’s which was one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the U.S.

I would guess it is the largest single demonstration in the history of Thailand and certainly much larger than anything the yellow shirt group put together. Given the logistics of getting people with very low incomes who live 8 or more hours by bus from Bangkok, to all show up and stick it out through the intense heat and dust, I would say it is a pretty impressive effort.

And what will be the result? The demonstrators are demanding new elections, and this time for the results to not to be thrown out. The present government is probably hoping to just sit tight and wait the demonstrators out until next week for Songkhran/Thai New year (but see below).

Whatever the result, there is something happening in Thailand that is a departure from the “Old Days.” The ordinary people, especially in the countryside are discovering the power of their numbers and are demanding to be recognized and respected.

The reaction: The Nation (3 April 2010) reports on the first trouble associated with the rally. According to its report, an “18-year-old man was arrested for slamming his Porsche vehicle at some motorcycles of red-shirt protesters…. The man was identified as Thanit Thanakijamnuay.  Sarawut said Thani allegedly s[l]ammed his car at some motorcycles parked in front of Intercontinental Hotel and inured some people.”

[Update 1: The Washington Post (3 April 2010) says of this incident: “Earlier Saturday, protesters swarmed around a Porsche car, angrily smashing its windows after its driver bulldozed a line of motorcycles the group had parked. His motive was not known. Riot police guarding the InterContinental Hotel said the luxury vehicle finally hit a fire hydrant, and the driver battled through a group of demonstrators before police intervened and took him into the hotel. Police, who found a handgun in the car, later identified the driver as Thanat Thanakitamnuay, grandson of prominent businessman and former Deputy Prime Minister Amnuay Viravan.” In addition, see Bangkok Pundit’s truly disturbing find on this rich kid’s hatred of the red shirts. It make the “motive was not clear” statement redundant.]

The Nation (3 April 2010) also reports that the government has set a deadline. Acting government spokesperson, Panitan Wattanayagorn and Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd “said the protesters must agree to leave the intersection at 9 pm or the POC would invoke the Internal Security Act to issue conditions for them to leave the area.” Failure to comply means a one-year jail term. POC is the Nation’s term for the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO). Compare this with the Burmese military’s State Law and Order Restoration Council of 1988–1997.

From The Nation

In a special broadcast on television, Panitan said: “We had send a team of police to negotiate with the red shirts leaders but failed to convince them to cease the protests which clearly affected the lives and rights of other people as well as businesses there…”.

He then made the extraordinary claim that the “rally is not peaceful, not line with Ahingsa or non violence as the protesters claimed…”. To date, PPT has not seen any reports of violence, except for that buy the Porsche kid.

Ominously, Sansern stated that if the red shirts didn’t leave, “we will enforce the law according to the guidelines that we have set.”

Update 2: Our reader has added this: 90 minutes to the deadline. I would guess there will be close to 300,000 people in front of the shopping centers and they will stay. It would seem impossible to shoot unarmed people on the steps of hi-end shopping centers in full view of thousands of camera phones, so it would seem a blunder to have given the deadline (especially given that the red shirts were scheduled to head over to Silom Sunday morning). I suppose the water cannons and tear gas will be tried first. Even that will create a video/photo montage that travels around the world within minutes.

Many emails being sent around now predicting violence and urging restraint.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post reports that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Taugsuban “issued an official order authorising Isoc director and other securities personnel to remove the UDD protestors from Rajprasong intersection from 11.15 pm, March [sic] 3, 2010.” That should be April. “The announcement cited the reason that the UDD protestors were not assembling in a peaceful manner, disrupting the traffic and commerce, which is against the law.” PPT is appalled by this reference to the rally not being peaceful as there are no credible reports of any violence. Disrupting traffic and commerce is not violence. And, the double standards are equally appalling as the Democrat Party applauded PAD’s activities in 2006.

Update 4: PPT has finally located another report of violence. Again, however, it appears directed at the red shirts and not perpetrated by them. The Nation reports: “11.30am: A bomb explodes near the Pathumwan intersection as [red shirt] protesters march by; no injuries are reported.”



One response

4 04 2010
Further updated: Defiant and peaceful « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Further updated: Defiant and peaceful Update: PPT has added photos to this report, provided by our reader who sent the report we posted here. […]

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