Conspiracists (denied)

23 09 2020

With the royalist Thai Pakdee claiming to have 130,000 signatures from people opposing any changes to the junta’s 2017 constitution and delivering these to parliament, we are reminded of their conspiracy claims by royalists.

They don’t deserve repeating as they are mad, but we note that a collection of them has recently been published by a long-serving journalist at the Asia Times Online. Exactly how many plots and “theories” can be squeezed into one longish article is mind-boggling. Thankfully, Thai Enquirer gives these claims little time and ridicules several of them.





On the lese majeste regime

17 10 2018

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times has a longish piece on lese majeste. He’s making a point about a seeming change to the lese majeste regime that has been noted by several analysts for several weeks, but still has some points worth considering.

He focuses on the controversial dropping of Sulak Sirivaksa’s Article 112 case when he “appealed to monarch [King] … Vajiralongkorn for a royal reprieve.”

Sulak “claims the case was stopped after King Vajiralongkorn advised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on the situation.”

Readers should note that this claim runs contrary to the palace’s long-held propaganda claim that the monarchy does not interfere in lese majeste cases. (There were several instances where the previous king and his palace did intervene, but the propaganda has been otherwise.)

Sulak is quoted as stating: “If the case went to the military tribunal, they were bound to put me in jail without any law, because the law doesn’t mean anything to them…”. Sulak is partly correct in this guess, but, then, no lese majeste case has ever stuck for him.

He says The Dictator was uninterested until the king intervened: “… when the King told him to drop the case, obviously it was royal advice that worked.”

Crispin suggests that the huge lese majeste “clampdown has come against the backdrop of what was once seen as an uncertain royal succession…”, ignoring the fact that the rise in the use of lese majeste predates the 2014 coup. PPT sees the use of Article 112 as a part of political efforts to rid Thailand of republicanism and to defeat the red shirts.

How Crispin concludes that the “military top brass [is]… now seemingly poised to relinquish power at democracy-restoring polls early next year…” is beyond our comprehension. However, he is right to see “signs that the fearsome law will be used less frequently, if at all, under the new reign,” although he does not note that the crown prince-cum-king was fearsome himself in the use of lese majeste against persons he saw as personal enemies. This included deaths in custody.

Sulak is then cited on his discussions with the king. He “says King Vajiralongkorn recognized the law’s past abuse for political purposes in a recent personal audience he had with the King where he offered his royally sought advice on myriad issues.”

Presumably Sulak has been given royal permission to say these things; that is, he is the king’s messenger. He does this by adhering to palace propaganda about the dead king: “I told the King his father said that clearly – it’s on record – that anybody that makes the case of lese majeste harms him personally and undermines the monarchy…”.

He then says that in his own case, “you can say publicly the king wrote personally to the Supreme Court and Attorney General, and since then there have been no new cases under [Article] 112.”

Sulak, adding to the new royalist discourse on the new monarchy, says that the recent dropping of 112 charges “are indicative of the new King’s ‘mercy’.” As with all royalist discourse, this involves untruths: “[King Bhumibol] regarded himself as a constitutional monarch, so he would not interfere,” but of course he did.  Sulak says of the previous king: “He used an indirect way, the Siamese way, he talked to the judges, he talked to the public prosecutor, but then many ignored his advice.” Of course, this is nonsense.

Interestingly, Sulak claims: “it is clear now that future cases will only be accepted for investigation and prosecution with the royal household’s consent. That, he says, marks a change from father to son.”

That is good news, perhaps. There remain about 60 cases of lese majeste still under the purview of prosecutors and the judiciary. But is is not such good news to have it confirmed that Vajiralongkorn is a determined interventionist, likely to ignore law, parliament and judiciary. Sulak states: “… the present King, unlike his father, he not only advises, he instructs…”.

As Crispin notes:

King Vajiralongkorn has moved with an alacrity and purpose in consolidating his reign that few diplomatic and other observers anticipated or foresaw upon his acceptance of the throne in late 2016. That’s entailed a recentralization of royal power….

Sulak seems to revel in his new role as royal spokesman. But beware the royalist who speaks for royal power.





Trump and Thailand

24 08 2016

PPT pays only limited attention to US domestic politics. However, when there are links to Thailand’s politics we get interested.

Over the past couple of weeks, US presidential candidate Donald Trump has been getting some attention for his links to Alex Jones. As one of the many Jones-linked websites has it, the “mainstream media is in a state of panic with the fact that Alex Jones and Infowars are influencing mainstream politics and aligning with presidential candidate Donald Trump.”

Trump’s interview with Jones is available.

Jones pedals extreme rightist conspiracy theory. But a vociferous group of Trump supporters, mostly white, gun-toting, racists, buys into it. More significantly, according one report,

Donald Trump’s top donors are now backing an InfoWars-approved challenger to Sen. John McCain— a Tea Partier [Kelli Ward] who blames the former prisoner of war for the rise of ISIS and who once held a town hall on chemtrails [the conspiracy theory that says government airplanes are spraying, through visible contrails that streak the skies, dangerous chemicals to change the weather or for darker motives].

Robert and Rebekah Mercer—the father-daughter duo spending millions to boost right-wing candidates—have substantial clout in the Trump campaign. While most Republican mega-donors have stayed away from Trump, Mercer and co. are all in for him.

What does this have to do with Thailand? Back in 2013, we had a post about Jones-acolyte “Tony Cartalucci,” who writes material that has been popular among far right yellow shirts and other royalists, including some in the current junta.

As we said back then (and we haven’t updated the links and Land Destroyer has changed its pages since we first posted):

His [“Cartalucci’s”] blog has been Land Destroyer, which provides no information on funding, but as a reader at Prachatai pointed out at the time, it:

[l]inks to Infowars.com which is Alex Jones. Infowars.com accepts advertising from Midas Resources (http://www.midasresources.com/store/store.php?ref=62&promo=specialOffer) which is “One of the world’s premiere precious metals firms, parent company of The Genesis Communications Network, proud sponsor of the Campaign For Liberty and creator of the Ron Paul Air Corps.”

The Ron Paul initiated Campaign for Liberty (http://www.campaignforliberty.com/about.php) draws inspiration from a range of conservatives and libertarians and localists. According to University of Georgia political scientist Keith Poole, Paul had the most conservative voting record of any member of Congress from 1937 to 2002 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Paul).

Midas Resources was founded by Ted Anderson. Ted Anderson and Alex Jones are collaborators, with Jones appearing on the Genesis Communications Network, where Anderson is the CEO (http://www.gcnlive.com/contact.php). It was established to promote the sale of precious metals (http://www.gcnlive.com/faq.php). Its front page advertisers include Christian holster sellers and a range of survival products (for surviving the coming global food crisis) along with Ron Paul sites and Russia Television/Russia Today. GCN has interviewed right-wing, anti-Semite Lyndon LaRouche (http://www.larouchepub.com/lar/2008/interviews/080401jack_blood_genesis.html), seen as a political extremist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyndon_LaRouche). LaRouche also has a fan in another link at Land Destroyer in F.W. Engdahl, yet another conspiracy theorist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._William_Engdahl), who believes in global cooling (not warming).

Jones and Anderson have promoted conspiracy rants by people associated with the extremist John Birch Society (http://mediamatters.org/blog/201101290003).

Companies linked in these groups, such as Free Speech Systems (http://freespeechsystems.com/) provide no links or information; certainly not practicing what they preach.

Land Destroyer links to a range of other conspiracy theory websites that never provide any details about funding. One of these is to the site of long-time conspiracy theorist Webster Tarpley who has a remarkable Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webster_Tarpley). Another is to anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination, Bin Laden is alive (Alex Jones too), and conspiracy theorist Jim Corr who is also on about the threat or One World Government (http://www.jimcorr.com/).

In the LaRouche Wikipedia page, in the section on “Selected Works,” it might be noted that LaRouche wrote a book with Uwe Von Parpart in 1970. Several sites note that he later worked at Asia Times and The Manager magazine owned by Sondhi Limthongkul. Interesting connections.

Conspiracy theories seem to be experiencing quite a comeback under rightist movements, not just in the US, but in Thailand too.





Speculation on politics and succession

27 03 2013

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online engages in some speculation regarding the future of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and succession. It is a long and rambling essay that packs almost every political event into its musings, with very few facts and plenty of guesses; yet it still worth a read.

He begins by noting that:

While both sides have appeared committed to avoid new rounds of confrontation in the autumn of King Bhumibol’s palace-proclaimed unifying reign and in light of Yingluck’s conciliatory tack, the criminally convicted Thaksin’s persistent push for a political amnesty is still viewed by many royalists as non-negotiable, including within the top ranks of the military led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

He adds that “Peua Thai efforts to table assorted amnesty bills in parliament and a parallel investigation by the quasi-independent National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into alleged irregularities in Yingluck’s personal asset declaration made upon taking office that threatens to topple her from power.” Crispin notes that the NCCC’s investigation is seen by some “as a royalist counter to Peua Thai’s amnesty and constitutional amendment initiatives…”.

Crispin puts succession front and center, just as some claimed it was when the military ran its coup for the palace in 2006. He argues that politics is all about Thaksin and the monarchy, with royalists falsely declaring that any attempt to amend the constitution is “aimed to undermine the monarchy’s position and power ahead of a delicate and increasingly uncertain royal succession.”

While “Yingluck has worked to temper royalist fears that her Thaksin-influenced government represents an existential threat to the monarchy and associated institutions,” her government seems unable to use its massive electoral mandate against the unelected elite forces.

Crispin includes considerable speculation regarding rifts in the government and between the government and red shirts, but the real story revolves around the subterranean battle between royalists-palace and Thaksin-red shirts, with the latter lacking influence over the courts:

Significantly, the MoJ lacks power over top level courts, including appointments to the Administrative, Appeals, Constitutional, and Supreme Courts. All four courts are widely viewed as royalist power centers, due in part to a series of rulings that have gone against Thaksin since the 2006 military coup that toppled his elected government. Since, Bhumibol has at royal audiences repeatedly called on freshly appointed top judges to rule with independence and righteousness.

Of course, for the palace, “independence and righteousness” means ruling in their interests.

Crispin ruminates on the “changed power dynamics in the palace in the wake of Queen Sirikit’s recent illness” and the king’s extended hospitalization. He refers to some who see “Thaksin as resigned to bide his time outside of the country and appeal for a royal pardon after rather than before the royal succession.” He repeats the usual speculation that “Thaksin may receive more sympathetic royal treatment under heir apparent Crown Prince Vaijralongkorn, due in part to their known past personal ties.”

However, he then speculates on succession shenanigans: “While many analysts and diplomats believe that the royal succession plan from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn is immutable, others have interpreted differently recent royal household signals and events.”

Sirikit, who “suffered from an ischemic stroke last July,” is out of sight and may be impaired physically and mentally. The king has been chirpier in recent times, but regularly falls back into illness and incoherence. All of this – PPT’s speculation – leads:

Some diplomats and political analysts now wonder if the long-held succession plan could be altered if the highly influential 80-year-old Sirikit, known to be her son’s top backer for the throne, were to pass ahead of Bhumibol. In line with the royal tradition known as wang na, Vajiralongkorn is renovating his Bangkok-based Amporn palace, as well as for less clear reasons facilities maintained at Don Muang airport, in advance of the anticipated transition.

Crispin then cites:

… “[p]alace insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online suggest that Vajiralongkorn’s first daughter, Princess Bajraktiyabha, could instead play a bridging role in a potential compromise scenario between royal camps vying alternately between Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn to assume the throne. That face-saving scenario would see Bajraktiyabha take on a regency role while Vajiralongkorn’s youngest son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, is groomed for the throne.

Frankly, these rumors have been around for several years and suggest royalist hope rather than anything more. Yet there is always the chance that succession can spin out of control, especially if the old duffers at the Privy Council get involved or the military decides to fiddle things. But as one of PPT’s unnamed sources speculated, it is expected that the king can go on for another 10 years, and the longer he does, the less royalist and middle-class opposition there may be to a shorter Vajiralongkorn reign.





Coup or no coup?

11 06 2012

PPT doesn’t always cite the speculative accounts of Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online. In the current circumstances, the speculative becomes somewhat more interesting.

In his recent column, Crispin made several comments that caught PPT’s collective attention, not least because they seem to implicitly send one of Crispin’s earlier speculation about an earlier, pre-election agreement between military, palace and Thaksin Shinawatra to the trash. In the new version we have the interests of Thaksin and the military leadership kind of coinciding. This coincidence of interest is for “reconciliation” and a broad amnesty.

Crispin argues that the military has split from the forces that opposed Thaksin in 2006. What’s left now is “the opposition Democrat Party, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, and a section of the royal palace…”. They stand opposed to the reconciliation and charter bills, supported by the judiciary.

Later in the article, it is no surprise to learn that it seems the bit of the palace that is anti-Thaksin is the king himself:

It has been lost on few observers that King Bhumibol has recently resumed a more prominent role…. Some observers read special significance into the fact the revered monarch wore military fatigues punctuated with a Special Forces red beret…. Special Forces carried out the 2006 coup and played a key role in the 2010 suppression.

The king’s return to activity suggests to “those making preparations and cutting backroom deals that the sun has not set yet on Bhumibol’s righteous reign.”

But those deals do not include a coup. Crispin suggests that Thaksin and others are “manufacturing” a coup threat (for other views regarding a coup, see Bangkok Pundit and PPT’s earlier post). His view seems to be that there can’t be such a threat because:

Thaksin’s camp and the top brass led by army commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have found common cause in the four reconciliation bills’ amnesty provision. Significantly, the provision would not challenge the legal basis of the 2006 coup and would absolve soldiers of responsibility for the killings of presumably scores of civilian red shirt protestors during the 2010 crackdown.

This coincidence of interests somehow replaces the earlier deal, if it ever existed. If it did, hpw does that square with the fact that officials now claim they have sufficient evidence to implicate the military  in the deaths of April and May 2010. If the “deal” didn’t cover that, then the military must be daft.

Now, it is the military leadership that apparently craves an amnesty almost as much as Thaksin because “one military insider who requested anonymity” says that the “top brass and all generals in line for promotion have blood on their hands…”. It seems they were daft. Or there was never a deal.

On the other side, Crispin reveals that Thaksin is now said to “not feel secure enough to return to Thailand as long as Prayuth and other staunch royalists command the top tiers of the armed forces.” So what was that earlier agreement about? Was he daft too?

We learn that “the Democrats, PAD and parts of the palace remain vehemently opposed to Thaksin’s return,” while the “military feels it could keep closer tabs on Thaksin’s movements and meetings if he was based inside rather than outside of the country.”

In the new version of coincidence of interests, the “evidence” comes from … non other than PAD’s Sondhi Limthongkul! He states: “The commander-in-chief of the army is with Thaksin now…. [Prayuth] is only interested in keeping his post and getting lots of budgets from the government.”

Crispin is right when he notes that military backing “was crucial to past PAD street movements, including the 2005-06 mobilization that paved the way for Thaksin’s military ouster.” He’s also right to observe that the military’s hand was “in the PAD’s week-long airport seizure in 2008…”.

But, he says, times have changed. He quotes a “military insider” who declares that:

even if the situation in Bangkok descends into chaos, with rival red and (pro-PAD) yellow shirt protestors clashing violently, the military would step in only briefly and return power to Yingluck once order was restored.

Wow! But what about all that 2006 stuff about the military intervening to protect the monarchy and keep succession out of Thaksin’s meddling hands? Another change:

One military insider believes the top brass is opposed to staging another coup because of the risks it would entail to the royal succession from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Apparently there are new risks weren’t there in 2006. What are they?

Any military intervention in politics, the insider believes, would likely be resisted by proliferating red shirt villages, which by some estimates now account for 20,000 of 77,000 villages nationwide, concentrated in Thaksin’s stronghold north and northeast regions.

And all of these villages are dangerous in another way: “Many of the villages have been indoctrinated from above specifically to protect democracy against a future military coup.” We’re sure that’s a lot better than being indoctrinated to support the monarchy as gods.

Be that as it may, this situation now puts “the military at seeming odds with the Democrats and the PAD…”. It also seems to put them at odds with the king!

While the Democrats and the PAD are known to be aligned closely with the palace’s current Bhumibol-led configuration, some believe that connection will diminish after Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn takes the throne. The military frequently mobilizes defense of the monarchy themes to justify its outsized political role, and thus has a strong interest in the continuation of the royal institution’s current central role in Thai society after the succession.

Ouch. PPT’s collective head hurts. Its a fabulous story of changing alliances and motivations. We admit to continuing skepticism about deals although we can see more in a coincidence of interest story, but not as much as Crispin rolls in. We leave it to readers to make what they can of it.





The U.S. and the Thai military

18 06 2011

The United States government has been remarkably quiet on the political events in Thailand and said almost nothing of any significance about the bloody crackdowns on demonstrators in April and May 2010. In fact, since the military coup in 2006, the U.S. has taken the position that their trusted allies in Thailand are the military, the palace and the Democrat Party. After all, the U.S. played an important Cold War role in promoting the first two and has had close relations with the Democrat Party for decades.

PPT has long observed that the advisers in Washington who have the ear of U.S. policymakers are conservative and connected to palace and military in Thailand. Most of them are from an era when these forces were the only ones that really mattered, and they almost feel comfortable now that the Democrat Party is the mia noi of the military. Those dinosaur advisers keep telling policymakers that dealing with the Democrat Party is easier than any other party because the Democrat Party is full of “people like us.”

Thus, it is only momentarily shocking to read at Asia Provocateur that U.S. Marines are training Thai army snipers! In the linked report, Gunnery Sgt. Victor Lopez, scout sniper chief instructor with Weapons Platoon, Landing Force Company, says: “The sniper has only two things on his mind; the fact that he is about to take someone’s life, and how he is going to do that.” PPT thinks that the Thai Army’s snipers already know this. After all, it was only just over a year since these snipers brutally cut down civilians with head and chest shots. Another trainer stated: “We want to impart some of our sniper culture…. They did really well and we want to inspire them to build their own sniper culture.” This is the culture of the brotherhood of cold-blooded murder of civilians, and it is, in fact, a culture deeply rooted in the Thai Army.

The State Department’s human rights policies and statements are in tatters. Human rights abuse is central to U.S. foreign policy. Human rights have always taken last place when it comes to dealing with authoritarian “allies,” but this account should surely be shocking to right thinking people in Thailand and the U.S. As it did during the Cold War, the U.S. is quite simply training murderers who use their skills to suppress and kill their own people. There’s more on the U.S. relationship with the Thai military in the story cited in the following paragraph.

PPT won’t add more to that story as Andrew Spooner has it covered. However, we want to add a little more, based on a useful report at the Asia Times Online. There it is reported that in addition to the abovementioned lethal training, on 10 June, the “United States Marines have finished training Thailand’s military and police to use electroshock Tasers to inflict ‘intense pain’, shoot a blinding neurotoxin spray and explode non-lethal grenades…”. As the report adds, this training is just “one year after the Thai army unleashed snipers and armored personnel carriers against an anti-coup insurrection in Bangkok in which 91 people died.”

US Marine Corps spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis L. Hill is reported to have stated that: “The purpose of the NOLES [Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Seminar 2011] training is to promote the use of non-lethal equipment in peacekeeping and develop the relationship between the civilian police and military, with an emphasis on preventing and stopping human-rights violations…”. So let’s try to get this right…. “non-lethal” is about human rights and sniper training is about….

What is the U.S. on about? One can imagine the U.S. Embassy saying that NOLES is about protecting human rights and minimizing casualties so that demonstrators aren’t brutally gunned down. Meanwhile, training snipers is developing a culture of efficient murder.

NOLES ’11 is said to have been specifically designed “to improve capabilities to maintain order during civil unrest.” In other words, the U.S. has involved itself in Thailand’s political struggles, choosing to support institutions that have a long record of human rights abuses and using U.S.-supplied weapons to wantonly murder opponents and civilians. This recent training even involved using mock incapacitating sprays against “a simulated uncontrolled crowd…”. As the report states: “Other lessons by the Marines included how to fire an M-203 grenade launcher, and load non-lethal ammunition into a Mossberg shotgun.”

PPT could excitedly proclaim that the U.S. should be ashamed that it continues to support regimes that murder and imprison, but what would be the point? After all, this is standard operating procedure.

 

 





Sombat targets Prem and Bangkok Bank

8 05 2011

It was less than a month ago that Shawn Crispin at Asia Times Online declared Sombat Bunngamanong had “faded into obscurity,” apparently having been ousted in what one of Crispin’s anonymous sources said was a “silent coup” inside the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship that was supposedly upset by Sombat’s allegedly anti-monarchy activities.

As is usual with Crispin’s reporting, it is not possible to refute such allegations when they are based on sources that can’t be verified. However, to anyone who watches the internet and even local television, it is clear that Sombat is anything but “faded.”

In the Bangkok Post, it is reported today that the quirky Sombat is leading his Red Sunday group on a Sunday afternoon rally at the headquarters of the Bangkok Bank on Silom Road. Red Sunday is a ginger group that regularly maintains the spirits and activities of red shirts, often in iconoclastic ways.

Today Sombat is said that his rally is “a symbolic movement to put economic pressure on the Democrat-led coalition government.” Sombat and his supporters called on the bank’s clients to “withdraw all their deposits from the country’s largest commercial bank, given that president of the Privy Council Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is advisory chairman of the bank.”

In addition, the group called for “people to wear in black and turn out to the streets, if there is any military coup.”

Crispin might still think this is “obscurity.” PPT reckons it is clear that Sombat and Red Sunday have not given up the fight.





Courts and judicialization

1 02 2011

Readers may be interested in a recent article by Seth Kane at Asia Times Online where he examines the issues of judicialization and double standards.

One argument made is that the courts are making decisions that go the opposition’s way appears to weaken double standard s argumnent: “a number of rulings, including the court’s refusal on several occasions to overturn UDD co-leader and parliamentarian Jatuporn Prompan’s release on bail and an acquittal in tax evasion charges against Thaksin’s children…”.

PPT thinks this is seeking balance where there is none. Think of the banning of opposition parties and the technical discarding of cases against the Democrat Party. Think of the way charges are handled against the red shirt leaders and then look at PAD leaders. Even at the lower levels there is a clear difference, with PAD agitators out on bail in the case of the storming of the National Broadcasting Service of Thailand (NBT) television station in August 2008 and hundreds of red shirts locked up, some for very minor offenses.

The article ends: “How Thailand balances calls for reconciliation and the need to strengthen rule by law will largely define the country’s political course in the approaching and uncertain post-Bhumibol era.”





What makes a social movement?

20 05 2010

William Barnes in Asia Times Online runs a line of argument on the red shirts that is worthy of comment. PPT commented on an earlier article by Barnes, claiming that the “radical” red shirts were actually communists. We made the point that his speculation, based on a single source in the PAD, made little sense for anyone who had observed Thailand’s politics in recent years. Barnes is claimed to be “a veteran Bangkok-based journalist.”

In this new article, Barnes says: “As the crisis evolved, the bottom line for the UDD was that they never gained the huge numbers of protesters that would have indicated a genuine popular uprising.” He later adds: “Yet the UDD’s inability to attract the massive popular support that they initially predicted limited the efficacy and credibility…”.

PPT thinks Barnes is seriously misrepresenting the nature of the red shirt movement. Yes, we know that the red shirts said they’d bring a million people to the demonstrations in Bangkok, and they didn’t get close to that in any single demonstration. However, government claims to the contrary, several seasoned reporters and academics recognized that the red shirt demonstrations that began on 12 March were probably the largest single massing of government opponents since 1973. PPT visited the red shirt protest site at the Pan Fah Bridge several times, and was staggered by the huge numbers of people present.

More spectacularly, the red shirt caravan of 20 March was simply huge, mammoth, gigantic – the reader can choose the word. Hours and hours of protesters parading on motorcycles, trucks, cars, pickups and a few bicycles was the biggest and most novel demonstration PPT has ever seen in Bangkok. The most remarkable thing about it was the tremendous solidarity shown by average working people in Bangkok. That scared the elite witless and frightened the middle class even more. Not because there was violence, but because, in their hearts, they finally knew that the were up against a true people’s movement.

Yes, there are Thaksin acolytes and violent elements, just as there is in the rest of Thai society, not least amongst the elite’s protective services. However, the burgeoning support for the red shirts was truly devastating for their opponents, making them desperate to incite violence. If that wasn’t enough, in the countryside, the red tide was all too evident. Whole parts of the country supported the demonstrators in Bangkok

In other words, if such a movement is not a general popular uprising, then Barnes is seeking something that could only exist in fairy tales.

Barnes does note that “the few thousand who remained [at Rajaprasong – later he says there were 600] now seem sufficiently radicalized by the military’s killing of fellow protesters to take vengeance through arson attacks on prominent private businesses and government buildings.” We think he’s right on the radicalization,, although we again think his numbers are zipped. The whole process of red shirt activism from immediately after the 2006 coup has radicalized more than a “few thousand.” That radicalism may be expressed in ways that Barnes and his Bangkok-based journalists might not recognize, but it is a once in a generation change that the old oligarchy will have trouble reversing. This is why repression will increase in Thailand.

We will question the identification of red shirts with all of the burning. We do not doubt that angry red shirts will have been involved in some of this, and we may easily recall that calls were made a month ago to burn the city if the red shirts were defeated. However, we ask why no questions are raised? How could the red shirts burn all these buildings, many of them after curfew and where the military had orders to shoot arsonists on sight? Doesn’t that seem just a little odd? PPT has also had reports of small gasoline fires outside apartment buildings in tiny sois. Why? Is this a warning that supporting the red shirts is a sin? Or is it meant to invoke fear? Or is it disgruntled red shirts wanting to burn nothing in particular? Isn’t it worth thinking back to army actions in the past, where they have been prepared to make “demonstrations” of the evil intent of their opponents? Ask the question at least.

As we mentioned above, Barnes has conflicting figures. He comments that “As of Tuesday, the total number of protesters in the mid-city protest site had fallen to around 600, not including women and children who took shelter in a nearby Buddhist temple and hospital, according to this correspondent’s estimate.” PPT has several correspondents in the area who have great experience in journalism and in dealing with mass movements. In addition, the BBC broadcast pictures live from the area. While there may have been 500-600 around the stage area, there were several thousand in other areas around the Rajaprasong-centered site.

Actually, this points to one of the failures on the part of many journalists, who concentrated on the stage area at Rajaprasong and Phan Fah. In both places, in order to know what was going on and how many people were there, one needed to get into the side streets and lanes.

Barnes, like a number of other international media, became fixated on people in black clothing. He says this of “black shirts”: “Thai military sources had earlier estimated that there were around 500 UDD black-shirt fighters, whom officials referred to as terrorists, in the sprawling encampment. This correspondent, however, found no more than 100 black-shirted guards, perhaps fewer, at the site on Tuesday. There is no confirmation that the black shirts scattered around the city are now orchestrating the mushrooming arson attacks.”

We think Barnes has confused guards – who did dress in black – and those the government calls “terrorists” who dressed in black to kill people on 10 April. Many of the former had changed out of the black “uniform” in recent days (as did many of the red shirts). The international media fetish for finding armed red shirts strikes us as strange, when the most heavily armed groups involved are all in state regalia. The proportionality is lost when journalists seek the “black shirts.”

Reporting like that by Barnes will form the core of the government’s justification of its murderous actions – as happened on 10 April. As previously, PPT urges observers to look at where the casualties were. Who took the brunt of the killing and wounding? It wasn’t soldiers.





International culpability

16 04 2010

The Times (15 April 2010) has a story that has caused PPT to consider more broadly the range of culpability. So too does a story be Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online (17 April 2010). Oddly, while the latter raises the issue of international culpability, both articles arguably contribute to an amazing silence that has emanated from governments around the world on the violence in Thailand.

The Times article is all about mysterious killers last Saturday, beginning with an account of “just one loud boom in a cacophony of firing” that “in an instant the balance of power between the two sides was reversed.” This latter statement is the kind of comment that has people believing that when a modern army faces protesters that there is anything like a parity of forces.

The question of whether there is a rift in the army seems reasonable and is also covered in the Asia Times story, with more twists and turns in conspiracies than even the article’s author can keep up with in any logical way.

It is also somewhat odd for The Times to consider the army’s operation to be “a simple crowd clearance operation…”. Clearing tens of thousands of determined demonstrators from city streets is hardly ever simple, and the red shirts had earlier demonstrated considerable learning after their failures in April 2009.

These reports, in speculating – “Thai newspapers this week carried photographs of black-clad riflemen in balaclavas, who moved stealthily among the Red Shirt protesters, most of whom were armed with nothing more powerful than sticks and flagpoles” and about a “mysterious and deadly third force was at work” – takes responsibility for the deaths and injuries from the government.

It allows Democrat Party mouthpieces to claim, as Kraisak Choonhavan has, that “People skilled in the M-79 must be military people…. He can then point to military people associated with the red shirts. Again, this shift blame to those who suffered by far the greatest casualties. In any case, Kraisak’s claim is wrong. M79 grenade launchers are easy to use.

These kinds of stories then allow others to push a pro-government line even further. For example, Sue Cato states that “There is a growing belief that the forces behind the red shirts are seeking fundamental change to the way the country is governed.” This is right out of the government’s playbook and says that the red shirts are “terrorists.”

She adds to this by claiming that “as the days go by it is more and more apparent that there is a great deal of sophistication and enormous resources behind the red shirts…”. Anyone who went to red shirt rallies in March can see that this is false. However, it fits the government’s claims that all the trouble has its root cause in Terrorist Thaksin as the foreign minister labels Thaksin Shinawatra. This claim means that the red shirt movement is portrayed as false and made up of duped and paid demonstrators, the standard yellow-shirt accusation. She adds to this by calling red shirt actions “choreographed stunts” and “intimidatory.” So all of the intimidation by the state is wiped from the slate.

Shawn Crispin is not as relentlessly pro-government as Cato, but he concocts so many plots and conspiracies into his article that the events of Saturday become so murky and so Machiavellian that Thailand seems incomprehensible. As he himself admits, “International reaction to the killings has been guarded due to the still unclear circumstances surrounding the violence.” Worse, because of this obfuscation, as one diplomat cited says, there are “concerns that the military could be emboldened to act more forcefully by the tepid domestic and international response to last Saturday’s bloodbath.”

For PPT it is clear that the international community has been less than tepid. The international response to the now 25 deaths and more than 850 injured persons taken to hospital is frozen cold. The governments of countries in the region and more broadly should be ashamed. Their lack of action has emboldened Abhisit Vejjajiva, his palace backers, factions in the military and, worst of all, Thailand’s dangerous, yellow-shirted rightists.

If there are more deaths, will they do anything? Or will governments continue to sit on their hands while people die while they are simply calling for an election. If they do nothing, the body count will increase and the “Burma solution” – favored by many on the right – will just be a step away.