Bangkok as Sarajevo

17 05 2010

The Times (17 May 2010) compares Bangkok to Sarajevo. The story by Richard Lloyd Parry begins: “It is obvious that something frightening has overcome the city of Bangkok…. Towering barricades of rubber tyres topped with forests of bamboo staves block either end of the street. The hotel receptionist warns us to keep the curtains tightly drawn all night for fear of snipers lurking on the roofs of surrounding buildings.”

This story claims at least “33 people have been killed and more than 200 injured since Friday” and it could well be far more than this.

The author notes that: “Cameramen and photographers have recorded soldiers firing with telescopic sights and, as a result, people all over Bangkok live in fear of snipers, who are fancied to be on top of every building.”

It is mentioned that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has “indignantly rejected a proposal by Red Shirt leaders for negotiations mediated by the United Nations.” In fact he rejects any foreign mediation.

The article mentions Seh Daeng, but not his death. The yellow-shirt blogs are ecstatic.

It says that “soldiers put up signs warning of ‘Live Firing Zones’. Rama IV, a main road of banks and offices, resembles Sarajevo at the height of the Balkan wars.”

The author says it “is depressingly difficult to see any end to the violence, or any way of bringing together the two sides that race in parallel without any chance of meeting. Mr Abhisit has never won an election: he came to power as the indirect consequence of a military coup [and PAD demonstrations and a judicial coup]. To the Red Shirts it is only a matter of justice that he should be tested at the polls. To the Government it is equally obvious that such matters cannot be determined by mob rule.”

No retreat says Abhisit.

An election is a way forward

26 04 2010

The London Times (26 April 2010) has a leading article on Thailand’s political crisis. It begins by observing that “Thailand’s political crisis has gone on for so long now…. Thailand’s agony has the potential to become a headache for countries far from South-East Asia, and to bring dangerous instability to one of the world’s most strategically important regions.”

Recognizing the now widespread discussion of civil war, the Times says: “If Thailand sinks into civil war, as many Thais fear, the consequences will be disastrous…”. For Europe and the West it seems. What about for Thais?

The Times does get it right when it asserts that the “current crisis illustrates a lesson that should have been learnt in Thailand long ago — the unpredictable and self-defeating consequences of military coups.”

Apparently Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva “has qualities of a promising leader — charm, education and cosmopolitanism (he was born and educated in Britain). But from the beginning he has been undermined by a simple and devastating fact — that his party has lost every election under his leadership and achieved power only as a consequence of military force.”

A promising leader? Really? As PPT has shown more than once, he lies to the media and hopes that his “charm” will cover his faults of arrogance and stubbornness. Now he has blood on his hands. He has been called a puppet. If he is, he has shown that he is prepared to do anything to keep power for the ruling class. Should Abhisit’s government get through this crisis, PPT has few doubts that it will be a political disaster for Thailand. We would doubt that this government will want an election for several years.* Wither Thai democracy?

The Times says that a “political settlement is the only acceptable solution, and it will require compromise by both sides. Mr Abhisit must accept the Red Shirts’ proposal of new elections in three months, a wholly reasonable proposal that he rejected out of hand in a nationwide broadcast yesterday. He must acknowledge that he has become part of the problem, and step down immediately — not for exile, as the Red Shirts demand, but for an honest fight at the ballot box.”

Read it all.

*Abhisit has again reported in this way on elections:

Mr Abhisit reiterated that he would not call for fresh election until the situation returned to normal and conditions are in place for a fair and safe election campaign. The government also has the duty to pass the state budget for the next fiscal year in parliament, he said.

“We have to discuss all problems including creating an atmosphere conducive to fair elections. The next election must not be a bloody one. ”All candidates must be able to campaign freely as should be the way in a democratic society,” he said in his weekly programme, Having Confidence in Thailand with Prime Minister Abhisit.

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.

Sathit and the Times

26 11 2009

PPT neglected the story of a few days ago that had the Times refusing to supply the Democrat Party-led government with a tape of its interview with Thaksin Shinawatra. We were somewhat tired of pointing out, day after day, that Minsiter in the Prime Minister’s Office Sathit Wongnongtoey is an enemy of media freedom. His comments on the Times interview show that he his only idea about the role of the media is that is should be the cheer leader for his government. If not, he wants to control and ban. If readers are interested in this spat and more of Sathit’s paranoia, we  recommend this post at Thai Crisis. If Thai Crisis is blocked for any readers, click here for a PDF.

Hurt feelings not lese majeste?

14 11 2009

While several xenophobic nationalists formerly attached to shadowing national security agencies recently lodged complaints with the police alleging lese majeste against Thaksin Shinawatra, The Times of London and its Asia editor Richard Lloyd Parry, the Democrat Party-led government might have a different view.

In an interview reported by Thailand’s National News Bureau (12 November 2009), Prime Minister’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey is cited as saying that “The Times of London editorial criticizing Thailand’s lèse majesté law was aimed at dissembling an interview given by ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to the website [newspaper].” Sathit seemed upset that the “editorial views … the lèse majesté law …[as having] no benefits.” Serial censor Sathit, who knows the political benefits of using lese majeste and computer crimes laws against opponents, warned that the “government would take action against the website [newspaper].”

Sathit then made the interesting claim that “the government rejected Mr Thaksin’s interview because it hurt the feelings of Thai people, not because it violated the lèse majesté law.” PPT emphasizes this, because Sathit then goes on to say that “he would monitor the government’s process to request the interview tape of Mr Thaksin from the news agency closely. He added that Mr Thaksin had intentionally and evidently violated the monarchy and the tape was the most important evidence.”

On the suggestion that the Puea Thai Party “would translate the interview given by Mr Thaksin and publish it,” Sathit warned the opposition party that it “must be responsible for the consequences of its distribution of the translated transcript.”

It seems that the political use of lese majeste is now getting so complicated that even the staunchest advocate of the law is becoming confused.

Update: At least Thanida Tansubhapol at the Bangkok Post (15 November 2009: “Don’t let him get away with it”) is certain about Thaksin and lese majeste. Thanida seems to think that Thaksin’s Cambodia ploy with Hun Sen was to take the heat off his Times interview. Yes, PPT realizes that this is tortured logic and the timing doesn’t match up, but it does provide the flavor of “debate.” Thanida is convinced that the “government should expedite its decision whether to charge Thaksin Shinawatra for lese majeste following his recent interview with Times Online. The case should not disappear from the limelight because Thaksin can’t have any excuses for what he said.”


Defamation laws

20 03 2009

A letter to The Times of London (20 March 2009: “Defamation laws must be updated”) signed by a group of well-known campaigners on media freedom and freedom of expression may be of interest to PPT readers. Thailand’s lèse majesté is mentioned in passing, and given the penchant for Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and others to equate lèse majesté and libel, the letter makes for interesting reading.

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