The crackdown I

10 04 2010

As was the case at Songkhran 2009, the military are undertaking actions against red shirt protesters this year. Television in Thailand was, for a time, reporting events, but there have now been blackouts, including of traffic cameras at strategic intersections that can usually be accessed via the internet. It is already clear that this crackdown on protesters has involved the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and some live rounds. PPT tries to summarize recent events by providing some links to news reports.

The clash at Thaicom, where red shirts had a temporary victory and troops seemed to go over to the red shirt side appears to have been critical in the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government’s decision-making. Abhisit’s Friday evening television appearance stated “that the government will not be discouraged by the threats of an escalation in the Red Shirts call for the dissolution of parliament. It was also made clear that the government would not fail to enforce the ‘rule of law’.” The government’s action to re-take the station and to again block People TV can be seen as a first sign of a determination to crack down.

As police and troops massed at various protest sites, an early clash was at Lan Luang/Pan Fa where protesters pushed back against police. At about the same time, DeputyPrime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban chaired a meeting of his emergency committee which also included Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and army chief Anupong Paojinda. Suthep issued the order for the crackdown. It seems Abhisit was there also (but is he sidelined?).

At about noon, protesters were asked to prepare for a crackdown and attempts were made to secure the protest sites. Suthep ordered “additional checkpoints near to Ratchadamnoen Avenue and Ratchaprasong Road.” The police stated that these checkpoints were “for preventing the smuggling of weapons to harm the red shirts rallying at Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchaprasong intersection or to incite violence…”. In fact, it is clear to all that this was the beginning of government moves to crush the red shirt challenge. Police apparently sought to serve arrest warrants. The government wanted to prevent red shirts returning to Thaicom.

A small group of red shirt protesters moved to the First Army Region headquarters on Rajadamnoen Nok Road, led by Kwanchai Praipana “to pressure troops not leave the base. At around 1pm, troops used water cannon to prevent the protesters from entering the base.”

The Nation then reported that “Hundreds of full gear police have been deployed at Ploenchit Intersection while red shirts leaders call for the protesters to form barricades to counter police…. TV footage showed the full gear police marched to Ploenchit which is near Rajprasong Intersection which has been under siege of red shirst protesters for days. The deployment spread reports that the government plan to disperse the pro-Thaksin protesters. Meanwhile red shirts leaders told the protesters to wake up and came out of their tents. They distributed handkerchiefs, telling the protesters to prepare for tear gas.”

Amid rumors of a coup, the military confirmed that tanks and/or armored personnel carriers were deployed in the city: “The deployment of army tanks at the Royal Plaza was not an attempt to stage a military coup, said Centre for Public Administration in Emergency Situations spokesman Col Sandern Kaewkamnerd. The tanks were stationed in the area to prevent any attempt by the red shirts to storm Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda’s Si Sao Theves residence. Reports said 10 tanks parked at the Royal Plaza at about 12.30pm.” They were also deployed at other strategic locations.

The Bangkok Post reported that “Soldiers are moving in on red shirts at Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchaprasong intersection in what appears to be the start of a crackdown on the anti-government rallies. As of 2pm, troops have retaken a large area along Ratchadamnoen Avenue from the protesters. Troops from the First Army regional headquarters left their base to confront red shirts who had mobilised from Phan Fa Bridge, after the protesters unsuccessfully tried to break into the compound on Si Ayutthaya Road earlier this afternoon. Several gunshots have been heard, but it is not clear who fired the shots.” Border Patrol Police were reported to be at Rajaprasong and the government confirmed that it was seeking to clear out the red shirt protesters.

By about 4 p.m., reports were of troops using tear gas at the Makkhwan Bridge. There were also clashes as the military attempted to prevent red shirt supporters joining their comrades. Much red shirt communication is by mobile phone, calling others to come via SMS. Remarkably, a few minutes later, The Nation reported that: “Protesters were seen on Thai PBS cheering as troops stepped back from the confrontation line at the Makkhawan Bridge 4:12 pm. It seemed the protesters there reclaimed their rally area from the troops and pushed the trooped back across the bridge.” The retreat of troops was shown on television.

Skytrain security cameras were blacked out by red shirts at Rajaprasong as these were claimed to be being used by the security forces to follow events. Skytrain services were suspended.

Acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said: “Security forces will continue pressuring anti-government protesters to abandon their rally sites throughout the capital … to reopen the road to traffic…”. It was claimed that “Police and troops have retaken Phitsanulok Road and are advancing on three to four more roads around Phan Fa bridge, where one of the two United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship rallies is located…. Toops were advancing on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. The operation would conducted in a step-by-step manner in strict accordance with the emergency decree, he said.” He added: “We will adhere to the principles of human rights and humanity as well relevant laws and court orders…”.

By late afternoon it was reported that at least 33 people had been injured in clashes to date. Several clashes were reported in different places, with large numbers of BPP massing. Later, Reuters reported government confirmation of the use of live rounds and reported “at least 93 people, including 22 soldiers and police, were wounded in a series of clashes near the Phan Fah bridge and Rajdumnoen Road, near several government and army buildings and the regional U.N. headquarters.” A foreign reporter was said to have been shot and injured. Also, “Reporters said live rounds were also fired, and a reporter for Thai TV station TPBS showed a spent bullet and bullet holes in the side of a car.” The Bangkok Post took an odd line, saying blanks were fired and ignoring evidence, even when the government had confirmed the use of live rounds. Reuters reported 5 gunshot wounds. Acting government spokesman Panitan said something about “troops would use only necessary force…”. He was supported by the military spokesman.

Meanwhile, the red shirt leadership seemed to be settling in for a longer struggle and the struggle soon moved beyond Bangkok, with reports of red shirts rallying at the provincial hall in Khon Kaen, Udorn and Chiang Mai. There are several reports of troops and police withdrawing (here and here) but the clashes continued, with the government using a helicopter to drop tear gas and the red shirts releasing balloons at the helicopter.

By 7 p.m., the Bangkok Post was reporting 135 casualties. Clashes were continuing. The government and military continued to claim that the security forces used live rounds fired in the air. These claims match those following the Songkhran Uprising last year.



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