Updated: Red shirts rattle the regime (again)

11 01 2011

Panitan when the Abhisit government relocated to a military base in 2010

On Monday we reported that BBC News had the biggest lie of the day when “Acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the government had expected bigger numbers [at the red shirt rallies] since emergency rule was lifted in December.” PPT observed that we felt the government and its backers had been taken by surprise; after all, the repression has been extensive, but the red shirts keep rallying. It seems that our skepticism was warranted. There are a series of stories in the media today that strongly suggest that the huge red shirt rally on Sunday has caused a ripple of fear and incredulity to run through the ruling class and its regime.

One story relates to the about-turn on red shirt leader and Puea Thai Party parliamentarian Jatuporn Promphan. On Monday, PPT linked to a story that claimed Department of Special Investigation (DSI) chief Tharit Pengdit said: “There was no reason to again seek the withdrawal of bail for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s core member…”.

Now, according to The Nation, Tharit has seemingly and miraculously changed his mind. Was he pressured by the government? PPT can only assume that this back-flip has to do with the fear of red shirt protests getting even bigger, drawing together the urban-rural alliance of opposition for a third year in a row.

Tharit, as the chief political officer in Thailand’s politicized DSI, “said on Tuesday he now had implicating evidence to prove Jatuporn violated the condition for his temporary release. Tharit contends Jatuporn recently gave two press interviews to intimidate him as the lead investigator [that’s Tharit] in charge of the terrorism case in connection with last year’s riots. In other remarks, Jatuporn was critical of the court order to ban him from attending a public assembly.”

Silencing Jatuporn remains critical for the regime.

From The Nation: Rajaprasong business protest

A second story is in the Bangkok Post and relates to some “2,000 business people in Ratchaprasong … calling on the government to step up ‘effective rally management’ to prevent political protesters causing any more damage to their businesses.” Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association (RSTA) chairman Chai Sriwikrom claims the latest red shirt rally caused “damage” of about 100 million baht. We assume this means loss of business, for there was no physical damage.

Chai said “after many UDD protests in the area, business owners could not bear the losses anymore and had decided to counter-protest for the first time.” His association “petitioned Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva…. It wants the government to find a new rally venue that can better serve a large number of UDD supporters and to speed up the enactment of the public demonstration bill.” That bill is a reactionary attempt to limit demonstrations.

UDD chairwoman Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn defended Rajaprasong rallies as a commemoration of the “people who died during April-May protest in the area last year.”

The RSTA does have businesses to run, but we can’t help wondering if this isn’t a carefully-timed political statement by the owners of shopping centers that serve the wealthy. Removing red shirt rallies from the city center would be yet another silencing.

The third story returns us to the political police at the DSI. It is covered in the Post story above and also at MCOT News. Tharit has announced that DSI “on Tuesday … arrested a key Red Shirt guard with an outstanding arrest warrant for terrorism for his alleged role in leading a crowd of activists to storm Chulalongkorn Hospital during the anti-government rally last year.”

Before saying anything more about this report, we need to go back to the idea of red shirts “storming” the hospital. At the time, PPT stated: The Chulalongkorn Hospital events of recent days have been an unmitigated public relations disaster for the red shirts and a triumph for the government. PPT recommends Thongchai Winichakul’s analysis of the events and their meanings at New Mandala. We also note the manner in which the events were hyped by the media – look at the initial, calm report in the Bangkok Post. That soon became a “storming” of a hospital by seemingly crazed red shirts. This results in remarkably positive press for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. PPT also notes the support that medical professionals have provided to PAD and its associated no color/multi-color groups.” A clip of the “storming” is here, embedded in a TV news account:

Back to the announced arrest. In fact, Sompong Bangchom was re-arrested in Srisaket province. His first arrest was “on Jan 10 after receiving a call from a police officer asking him to go to a police station in Si Sa Ket’s Muang district. The officer said he wanted his help in solving a drug case. He went to the police station, only to be arrested by the DSI.” The point is that, suddenly, the DSI re-arrest him and on the big PR story related to the “storming” of the hospital that red shirts thought was harboring soldiers. Sompong is also alleged to have been responsible for a grenade attack on the home of “Banharn Silpa-archa on Charan Sanitwong road on April 25, injuring seven or eight people.”

PPT doesn’t think it is a coincidence that Sompong has been re-arrested at this time. It is a part of the regime’s response to the huge red shirt mobilization.

Update: Thanks to a reader for pointing out Not The Nation’s take on the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association’s “rally.”



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11 01 2011
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