RISE OF THE RED SHIRTS
After Abhisit became prime minister the so called “Red Shirts” became a major political force in Thai politics. On Thailand’s red, white and blue flag, the red stands for nation, blue is for the monarchy and white is for Buddhism.
Chang Noi wrote in The Nation: “The red movement has two main streams — hardcore Thaksin enthusiasts, and a broader audience that supports democracy and opposes military intervention in politics. Thaksin had won support in the Northeast and upper North among people who felt pandered to and empowered as never before. After the coup, they protested through community radio, and resisted military intimidation. [Source: Chang Noi, The Nation, May 4, 2009]
In parallel, anti-coup protests in the capital attracted a few thousand activists, mainly veterans of the democracy campaigns of 1973-6 and 1992. In February 2007, Thaksin loyalists tried to set up a cable TV network to rival ASTV (the network used by the Yellow Shirts) but were blocked. Following the Yellow Shirt's example, they then took their campaign onto the street. In June, they announced a "united front", combining the democracy activists and Thaksin loyalists under one umbrella.
Over the following months, the groups that became the Red Shirts campaigned for the rejection of the junta's constitution. After the 2007 election, the movement became dormant but was revived in the following May to counter the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) rallies. As governments were toppled, parties banned, ministers removed and more coups threatened, the movement attracted more support among people who felt democracy was under threat, including many who had earlier supported the PAD.
When the movement initiated mass rallies in October 2007, the audience included supporters bussed down by pro-Thaksin ex-MPs from the North and Northeast, along with growing numbers of walk-ins from the capital. In his early phone-ins, Thaksin talked mainly about himself, but soon switched his theme to reflect the changing make up of his audience. He began to speak about "full democracy" and railed against its enemies.
In January 2008, the movement founded D-Station on the model of ASTV. In March it launched a mass protest in Bangkok and provincial centres. The appearance of the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts is the most dramatic change in Thai politics in three decades. At the core of both is the rebirth of the civil society activism of the 1990s. The big innovation of these movements was to break the state's grip on the electronic media and so gain the means to recruit mass support through political broadcasting.
Of course, in the background is Thaksin's money and ambition on one side, and military power and meddling on the other. But this should not be allowed to obscure what these movements stand for. Thai politics is often criticized for being dominated by small, self-serving cliques of businessmen and generals. Both these movements want to move beyond. Their main enemy is not each other, but the old, old politics desperate to resist this challenge.
Polarization of Thai Politics Between the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts
Dr. Kantathi Suphamongkhon, the Foreign Minister under Thaksin, wrote in Global Viewpoint: The hate campaign in Thailand, which started in 2005 and intensified in 2008, has been successful and has polarized the Thai society to an unprecedented degree. The success of the hate campaign owed much to the round-the-clock live television, broadcasting and reaffirming hate messages. This was supplemented by demonstrations and rallies, including the occupation of Government House and the closure of international airports by demonstrators wearing Yellow Shirts, members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), determined to bring down several elected governments. The PAD has called for a parliament to be dominated by appointed, rather than elected members. [Source: Dr. Kantathi Suphamongkhon, Global Viewpoint, April 21, 2009. Suphamongkhon served as Foreign Minister of Thailand during the administration of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from March 11, 2005, until the military coup d'etat on Sept. 19, 2006. He is currently Senior Fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) where he also teaches law and diplomacy]
In April 2009, following the examples set by the "Yellow Shirts", an opposing group of people, members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), wearing Red Shirts, took to the streets to demand a return of full democracy to Thailand. A regional summit was abruptly cancelled as a result, and this time, the military reacted swiftly to enforce the law against the "Red Shirts". Opposing groups in Thailand now see the situation as a "zero sum game," in which if one side wins, the other side loses. With this attitude, there is no possibility of a settlement with mutual gains.
As events developed following the coup, many Thais became convinced that there is a double standard in Thailand in which members of one side can break the law with impunity while members of the other side are subjected to maximum punishment. Both sides used strong personal attacks on key personalities, resorting to emotional accusations. In this way, action leads to reaction, escalating into violence. The situation is grim, and there is real potential for things to get worse, leading Thais into the abyss together.
Reasons Behind the Polarization of Thai Politics
Mark Magnier and My-Thuan Tran wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Perhaps the most obvious lesson from Thailand, one heavily underlined by the anti-government protesters, is the growing gap between haves and have-nots: those who have benefitted from globalization's riches and those left behind.” "The government has to see what we are doing," said Walangkana Tina, 48, a Bangkok protester chopping papayas in the capital's protest zone. "We are not just sitting in air-conditioned rooms. We are sleeping in the middle of the sun and the rain." "We are trying to fight for democracy," said Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader."We want equality in politics, in economics, in culture, in education and healthcare." [Source: Mark Magnier and My-Thuan Tran, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2010]
“Poverty is hardly new to Southeast Asia. But the expectations of the poor have been raised by the media and opportunistic politicians, some argue, with limited policy follow-through, even as opportunities for those at the bottom have foundered, the rich have become more ostentatious and neighboring China powers ahead. An earlier generation of rising Asian economies — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore —saw many poor farmers find well-paying factory jobs in the cities, as have millions recently in China, but most such people in Southeast Asia have never gotten that opportunity. Economies in Southeast Asia are smaller, and most governments failed to use a rush of foreign investment before the 1997 Asian financial crisis to jump-start education, upgrade skills and leapfrog beyond cheap-labor economies. [Ibid]
“Now, as China booms ahead with higher efficiency and plentiful investment capital, many Southeast Asian nations find themselves increasingly squeezed, leaving those at the bottom with low-paying jobs in tourism and related service sectors. All the while, the poor are watching a privileged nouveau riche class in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila driving flashy cars, traveling abroad and doing increasingly well. Fanning the flames of resentment are corruption, weak institutional reform, political intransigence and use of the courts to frustrate upward political mobility.
“This has led to the Red Shirts in Thailand, "people power" in the Philippines and, a little farther afield, the Maoists in Nepal. Feelings that the system is rigged can be sparked by one leader's ability to raise expectations, as seen in Thailand with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Whether Thaksin's administration fully delivered on his promise to help the poor is a matter of debate, but he changed the political conversation, giving many poor and disenfranchised Thais hope of a better life. His ouster in 2006 in a military coup amid corruption charges, followed by crushing court decisions against two subsequent pro-Thaksin governments, only fueled suspicion among Thaksin supporters of heavy-handed string-pulling by an elite clique. [Ibid]
"There is a stereotype that we are poor and uneducated," said Red Shirt spokesman Sean Boonpracong. "But we are made up of people who can think for themselves." Adding to the resentment is the role of the business elite, in a region that has long seen the biggest deals going to a few politicians, tycoons or military brass able to procure government contracts, with small businesses left struggling. "Since the current government came into power, my business has been very bad," said Viraj Sirikajornroj, 48, a Bangkok car parts seller. "I don't like double standards."
"People power" movements can spotlight issues long ignored, but they have the potential to spiral out of control, as has been happening in Bangkok, as well as bring about relatively peaceful change, as seen in the Philippines. "It's possible that protest movements can be used to alleviate some of the political pressure," said Paul Chambers, a senior research fellow at Germany's Heidelberg University. "But the Red Shirt leaders have wanted more and more. It's like a bull at a rodeo that starts to buck, and the leaders can't stay on top." [Ibid]
“King Bhumibol Adulyadej is deeply revered, but social mores have slowed reforms or open debate on the succession, a situation that some say has further strengthened the political and economic status quo. Another issue undercutting regional development has been military interference in politics, as witnessed in Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand as armed forces resist the transition to civilian-led rule befitting a modern democracy. "The Thai military after the 2006 coup proved itself very ineffective in governing," said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. "Now it's proving itself to be a henchman rather than an institution.... How militaries are transforming themselves is crucial." [Ibid]
Red Shirt Protests in Thailand in 2009
In March and April 2009, Red Shirt demonstrators seized Government House (the prime minister’s office) in Bangkok and held it for three weeks. The protesters demanded that Abhisit resign and call new elections. The protest came to an end after the protesters burned buses and seized intersections in clashes with police, soldiers and residents in Bangkok, leaving two people dead and 123 injured. Arrest warrants were issued for Red Shirt leaders and Thaksin himself. Thaksin addressed the demonstrators using video links. At their height the demonstrations drew about 100,000 participants. A state of emergency was declared on April 12 and lifted on April 29.
Bill Tarrant of Reuters wrote: “In nightly phone-ins and video link-ups from his unknown place of exile, Thaksin has been exhorting his legions besieging Government House in central Bangkok to rise up and throw out the “illegitimate” government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They responded by smashing into the venue of an Asia summit in the southern beach resort of Pattaya and battling troops after they blockaded a key junction in Bangkok. The aim, it appeared, was to provoke a bloody crackdown that would feed a groundswell of support for the populist Thaksin. After his loyalists began streaming out of the Government House, ending their three-week-long siege, some wondered whether this meant Thaksin’s star had finally fallen. [Source: Bill Tarrant, Reuters, April 14, 2009]
“Abhisit had been bending over backward to avoid bloodshed in containing the “Red Shirt” movement. Indeed, his orders to treat them gently backfired when they came smashing through a glass facade at the Asia summit venue, troops tumbling haplessly after them, forcing leaders to evacuate by helicopter. Although at least 113 people were injured in clashes between troops and protesters, the only two deaths were due to clashes between marauding Red Shirts and angry citizens in one neighbourhood of central Bangkok, authorities said.” [Ibid]
Red Shirts Violently Disrupt 2009 Asian Summit Meeting in Pattaya
Red Shirt protesters violently assaulted the building in Pattaya where a major Asian summit meeting was taking place. AFP reported: “Thai protesters smashed their way into a major Asian summit, forcing the country's embattled prime minister to cancel the meeting and evacuate foreign leaders by helicopters. Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in the resort of Pattaya after thousands of demonstrators stormed the summit, which was supposed to focus on the financial crisis and North Korea's rocket launch. Choppers airlifted dignitaries from the roof of the luxury hotel venue after the red-shirted supporters of Thaksin breached police lines, broke down glass doors and streamed into the building unopposed. [Source: AFP, April, 2009]
“The meeting grouped the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Protesters said they had run out of patience with Abhisit's refusal to bow to their demands for his resignation, and that they were angry at the wounding of three supporters in earlier clashes with pro-government rivals. [Ibid]
“Hooting horns and triumphantly chanting slogans, anti-government protesters decked out in red pushed past lines of troops who carried shields and batons but offered little resistance. They toppled metal detectors, smashed reception tables and left behind small pools of blood where some had been injured by glass. About 100 demonstrators reached the driveway of an adjacent building where the ASEAN leaders where having a luncheon. Staff were forced to bustle hotel guests — including a bikini-clad female tourist — away from restaurants and the poolside. [Ibid]
Several foreign leaders including Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and Abhisit himself were later airlifted to a nearby military airbase where emergency planes were on standby, AFP reporters said. The so-called Red Shirts had earlier clashed with pro-government rivals armed with sticks and bottles, forcing the morning's agenda to be scrapped, including ASEAN meetings with the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea. The three East Asian leaders remained in their hotels elsewhere in Pattaya.
There was confusion over which side the injured demonstrators came from and who attacked them. Protest leader Arismun Pongreungrong said his Red Shirts had been fired on by the rival demonstrators, whom he accused of being security forces in disguise. "We found 500 blue shirts behind army checkpoints with used bullet casings, handmade bombs and sticks," Arismun, a former pop singer, said at a press conference in the hotel lobby. Later it was revealed that Abhisit’s car was surrounded by an angry Red Shirt mob in Pattaya. He managed to escape with no harm done. A similar thing happened in Bangkok when an red shirt mob surrounded his car outside the Interior Ministry.
The ASEAN summit was originally set to be held in Bangkok in December 2008 was was moved first to the northern city of Chiang Mai, then delayed and moved to the coast and scheduled to take place in February but was postponed until April.
After the Red Shirt Protests in Thailand in 2009
A poll after the 2009 protest by Abac University, the most respected pollster in Thailand, found that 55 per cent of 2,178 respondents in 18 provinces from throughout the country wanted the Red Shirts to end their protest and let Abhisit continue to run the country. Only 11 per cent wanted Abhisit to resign. An Abac poll a month before showed Abhisit with a popularity rating of 51 per cent against only 24 per cent for Thaksin.
In June 2009, Thaksin supporters in the Peua Thai party did well in elections in northern Thailand, the stronghold of Thaksin’s support, and staged a rally that drew 30,000 people in Bangkok despite heavy rain. In July, the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromys was one 36 Yellow Shirt leaders charged for their involvement in the 2008 protests that shut Bangkok’s airports. In August a pro-Thaksin Red Shirt rally in Bangkok drew 25,000 people. Thaksin addressed the crowd by telephome, exhorting them not to leave him “dying in the desert” (a reference to his exile in Dubai). The demonstrators called for Abhisit to step down and announce new elections. The 14-hour rally ended peacefully. A red short rally in Bangkok in September drew 25,000 while Yellow Shirt protesters clashed with police near the temple on land disputed Thailand and Cambodia.
In August 2009, gunmen sprayed bullets into the office of Abhisit’s political party. No injuries were reported. Police assumed the pre-dawn attack was carried out by men on motorcycles. In December 2009 a frail King Bhumibol emerged from the hospital to tell Thais during his annual birthday address to “put the common interest before their own interests.”
Violent Red Shirt Protests in Thailand in 2010
In the spring of 2010 more than 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 were wounded in street clashes and a military crackdown on the opposition rallies, which drew about 100,000 "Red Shirt" demonstrators at their peak. The protest began peacefully in March 2010 and turned into an occupation of shopping district in central Bangkok. In April the protests turned violent and became even more violent in May when government security forces forced the protestors out of their occupation zone. Of the 90 people killed about a dozen were police and soldiers and rest were civilains.
The protests were led by The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, the "Red Shirts"), a pressure group that opposed the Abhisit's government and called for it to dissolve parliament and call new elections. The Red Shirts' ranks were largely drawn from Thaksin supporters and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006 on corruption allegations. The government accused the protesters of trying to undermine the monarchy and the nation's revered king, charges protest leaders strongly denied. The government also claimed the protests cost 150 billion baht (approximately US$5 billion) to organize and that a lot of the money came from Thaksin.
The UDD was a large and disparate group with more than 20 leaders. The political arm of the protests, the Puea Thai Party, was headed Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. Other important leaders included Jatuporn Prompan and Suporn Attawaon. The group believed that the Abhisit government — backed by the urban elite — was illegitimate, having been helped into power by the country's powerful military. The protesters demanded that Abhisit dissolver parliament and call new elections. The protest and violence highlighted Thailand's bitter political divides and pitted the Red Shirts and Thaksin supporters against the Bangkok-based elite and military, who had been supported in the past by the Yellow Shirts.
The protests paralyzed areas of Bangkok, hammered the economy and brought the government to a halt. The Bangkok stock market which had increased in value by 75 percent before the protests experienced sharp declines. Foreign investors pulled money out if the country, the baht fell. Businesses in the protest areas were forced to close, causing them to lose around $5 million a day. Many international events in Bangkok and Thailand in the spring of 2010 were cancelled or postponed because the unrest.. Some foreign companies closed their factories. But overall, the protests didn’t cause much long-term damage. Businesses affected by the protests for the most part bounced back quickly after the protests ended in May and economic figures for all of 2010 were mostly good.
Red Shirt Protesters Begin Arriving in Bangkok in March 2010
Popular opposition against Abhisit government rose throughout 2009 over the coups and other actions that were taken against Thaksin, his political party and allies. Abhisit tightened security around the time of the Supreme Court's ruling to seize Thaksin’s bank accounts frozen since the 2006 military coup. The UDD announced protests on March 14 in Bangkok to call for new elections. Abhisit further tightened security and censored radio, TV stations and websites sympathetic to the UDD in part because a doctored tape was used make Abhisit look bad. [Source: Wikipedia]
In anticipation of the May 14 March protesters began arriving in Bangkok wearing Red Shirts and flags, carrying signs with Thaksin’s face. Days prior to the planned protest checkpoints were set up to inspect caravans of protesters arriving from outside provinces to Bangkok. Police were given orders to detain any protester with weapons
Describing the scene on March 13, Reuters reported: “Tens of thousands of protesters converged in Bangkok to give Thailand's military-backed government an ultimatum: either call elections or face crippling demonstrations across the capital in coming days. About 80,000 red-shirted supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a military coup in 2006, arrived in trucks, cars and motorbikes from rural provinces over the weekend, carrying red flags and blaring music about democracy and freedom. Thousands more were expected by in the evening, including hundreds who boarded boats in nearby provinces. [Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, March 14, 2010]
“Protest leaders insist the rally will be peaceful even if it lasts for days. They plan to maintain pressure on Abhisit to dissolve parliament and call an election Thaksin's allies would be well placed to win. "We're asking the government to relinquish power and return it to the people," said Veera Musikapong, chairman of the UDD protest group, setting a 24-hour deadline for Abhisit to dissolve parliament. [Ibid]
“Thailand deployed 50,000 police, soldiers and other security forces across Bangkok after government warnings of potential sabotage, including bombings and arson. Several foreign embassies urged their nationals in Bangkok to be cautious. "It may get more volatile after a few days as the protest leaders step up their measures and people are tired and frustrated," National Security Council Secretary General Thawil Pliensri told Reuters. "We have to make sure there is no damage." [Ibid]
“Crowds gathered under tents and umbrellas, sitting on plastic sheets and mats listening to speeches and folk songs on stage. "This government angers me. I never cared much about politics until a few years ago when it becomes so clear they are trying to hold onto power at the expense of people like us," said Teerachai Sukpitak, a farmer from northeast Leoi province. "We are here to ask for justice and for rule of law to be applied to all," one protest leader, Weng Torirajkan, told cheering supporters. "The government cannot do it because it's too busy serving the elite." [Ibid]
Red Shirt Protests in March 2010 with the Million Person March
The March 14 protest, originally labeled by organizers as the "Million Person March," centered around Phan Fah bridge, were very large and peaceful. Some described them as the largest in Thai history, saying over 150,000 people showed up over several days. Thailand's government-controlled TV channels claimed that there were only 25,000 protesters in the main protest site at Phan Fah Bridge. On March 15 tens of thousands of protesters moved in a caravan to the 11th Infantry Regiment military base, where Abhisit was holed up, prompting Abhisit to leave the base in a military helicopter to "observe traffic."
Marwaan Macan-Markar of IPS wrote: “An unprecedented show of force by men and women from Thailand’s rural hinterland was on display over the weekend as they poured into Bangkok in the tens of thousands to stake a claim on having a voice in shaping this South-east Asian kingdom’s national agenda. By Saturday evening, an estimated 80,000 anti-government protesters from the northern and north-eastern belts of Thailand had been ferried in to the capital in a scene never witnessed since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, say analysts, who described it as “phenomenal” and “a historic moment.” [Source: Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS, May 14, 2010]
The protests, which are planned to peak on Monday, had the initial look of an army of soccer fans coming to watch a pivotal game. There was a festive air, with loud music playing, as a convoy of thousands of pick-up trucks, larger six-wheel vehicles, vans and buses clogged a main highway leading into Bangkok. They were cheered on by hundreds of people who lined the streets during the final 65-kilometre stretch from Wang Noi district, close to the historic city of Ayutthaya. But it was the colour that they sported – the signature Red Shirts, with anti- government slogans on some – that affirmed this was an assertion of political identity and mobilisation by a constituency often marginalised and dismissed by Bangkok’s conservative political machine in the firm grip of the entrenched elite, royalists and the powerful military. Each vehicle also flew the flag of the Red Shirts, who belong to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), a protest movement whose political patron is the fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. [Ibid]
Some of these “rural hordes,” as the pro-establishment English-language daily the ‘Bangkok Post’ contemptuously referred to this UDD assertion of strength, included the likes of Narong Unsri, a retired radio operator who had worked in a natural gas drilling company. The 62-year-old had journeyed for 12 hours with seven others in a van until Wang Noi. Others, like Ruakchai Sitilwan, employed in a marketing network, had spent 18 hours on the road with four others in a pick-up truck. Nearly 80 percent of those from the 19 north-eastern provinces who had come in the convoy were farmers, says Narong, sipping on iced coffee. “We are going to Bangkok to tell the government that we need an election because this government is a hijacked government.” On Saturday night, speakers at the rally site railed against other favourite objects of their ire, ranging from the “double standards” in the country’s political system to criticism of the political aristocracy that they say wields power without having been elected or being held accountable. [Ibid]
According to the Human Rights Watch report: “During the first stages of the UDD protests, the Thai government pursued a strategy of restraint in the apparent hope the protests would lose steam, placing limited obstacles in the way of protesters and avoiding confrontation with security forces. Prime Minister Abhisit said he would meet to discuss Thailand’s future with the UDD, but that early elections would not be on the agenda. The government applied the Internal Security Act to limit the movement of the protesters, allowing the army to set up checkpoints and declare curfews. But such measures failed to stop the UDD’s fast growing protest. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
“After establishing a two kilometer-long Phan Fa Bridge protest camp adjacent to Government House, the UDD leaders embarked on a series of events to intensify the impact of their protests. They began driving long protest convoys of Red Shirt supporters through different parts of Bangkok, disrupting traffic but also demonstrating the support they enjoyed among ordinary Bangkok residents, thousands of whom came out to cheer the passing vehicles. Adopting a tactic from the earlier PAD protests, they also attempted to disrupt the functioning of government, descending in thousands on the 11th Infantry Division army base where Abhisit had attempted to organize an alternative seat of government away from the surrounded Government House. [Ibid]
Blood and Violence as the Red Shirt Protests Pick Up Momentum in late March 2010
After the "Million Person March” protesters donated blood to splatter on Thai government buildings to symbolize the sacrifices they were making and highlight the red color of their cause. Leaders said more than 1 million cubic centimeters of blood (a bout 1,000 soft drink bottles worth) was collected. The Red Cross condemned the practice as wasteful and unhygienic, possibly spreading diseases such as HIV-AIDs and hepatitis. Some blood was thrown at Government House. Most of the blood was splattered at Abhisit’s office, the headquarters of his ruling party and at his private residence. Fifteen jugs of blood left over. Red Shirt leaders said, would be used to make a massive work of art. In conjunction with the blood splattering a Hindu Brahmam priest presided over a “curse” ceremony at a government building.
According to Wikipedia: Negotiations between the protesters and the government failed to result in a resolution of the situation. The protesters insisted that Abhisit dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. The government refused to do so before it had amended the constitution. An estimated 100,000 demonstrators turned out on March 20 to parade 46 kilometers through Bangkok in a 10 kilometer-long convoy. This demonstration was peaceful, and aimed at gaining the support of local residents. As usual, the majority of the crowd were UDD ‘Red-Shirt’ activists who travelled from Northern provinces to demonstrate, but there also appeared to be some local support lining the streets. However, critics claimed that demonstrators had been bribed by the organization’s leadership and that this was a common practice. [Source: Wikipedia]
AP reported: “Tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters threatened to force soldiers from the historic heart of Thailand’s capital, raising tensions in what so far has been a nonviolent bid to bring down the government. Riding on motorcycles and in pickup trucks, the protesters travelled in a noisy parade to seven locations including the Bangkok zoo and Buddhist temples being used by soldiers as temporary camps. Some of the soldiers packed their belongings and left to avoid clashes, drawing raucous cheers from the protesters, who are entering their third week on the streets of the capital. “We will storm the places where soldiers camp out. We’ll shake the fence. We’ll cut the barbed wire. We’ll march through the barricades. We’ll march for democracy!” a leader of the “Red Shirt” protesters, Nattawut Saikua, shouted to the crowd. “This is where we’ll end military suppression. This is where we’ll create democracy.” [Source: AP, March 27, 2010]
According to Human Rights Watch: Shadowy violence also began to occur, with an unclaimed grenade attack on the 1st Infantry Division headquarters (where all top army commanders have houses) on March 15; four M79-launched grenades wounded two soldiers. On March 23, two grenades were fired at the Ministry of Public Health building on the outskirts of Bangkok, shortly after a cabinet meeting there to discuss extending the Internal Security Act. On March 27, further grenade attacks using M79s took place at the army-run Channel 5 television station, the Customs Department, and the National Broadcasting Service of Thailand television station, wounding another five soldiers and a civilian guard. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
Red Shirt Occupation of Central Bangkok in the April 2010
In April, protesters shifted the base of their operations to Ratchaprasong intersection in the shopping district of central Bangkok. At least a half dozen shopping malls including Central World—the second largest shopping complex in Southeast Asia— are located in the area. Many shops were forces to close during the protests.
The protesters barricaded major roads with tires and bamboo sticks and forced the closure of some of the city's ritziest malls and hotels. The Abhisit government was criticized for excessive leniency and standing aside as protesters set up their base in the heart of Bangkok, which occupied more than 1 square mile (3 square kilometers). About 10,000 protesters, with women and children among them, were crammed into the area.
Protesters also rallied outside state-controlled broadcasters Radio Thailand and Channel 11, accusing them of bias. A state of emergency was declared on April 8, banning political assemblies of more than five people after protesters broke into the Parliament building to press their demands for early elections. The protesters rammed a gate with a truck and scaled walls to briefly gain entrance to the building. Some officials fled in a Black Hawk helicopter. "The protest is now illegal and we urge that every peace-loving person leave the restricted areas," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. "The army will not kill Thais but we have to restore law and order."
Around the same time of all this Red Shirt protesters stormed a satellite station in Ladlumkaew about 60 kilometers miles) north of Bangkok, overrunning an army barricade and forcing their TV channel back on the air after it was closed down by the government. Reuters reported: “Security forces fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters who climbed over rolls of barbed wire and forced open the gate of the compound, holding it for about three hours in defiance of an emergency decree. Most of the soldiers pulled back from the Thaicom Pcl satellite station about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Bangkok, leaving the grounds in control of the "Red Shirts" protesters, supporters. Authorities entered the station a day earlier and seized equipment that took their People Channel off air, saying it was inciting violence. The broadcasts resumed after talks between police and protest leaders, prompting the crowd to disperse. [Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, April 9, 2010]
Red Shirt Protests Turn Violence on April 10, 2010
On April 10, the demonstrations turned violent. Troops tried unsuccessfully to disperse protesters at Phan Fah bridge, resulting in 24 deaths, including one Japanese journalist and five soldiers. More than 800 were injured. The Thai media called the crackdown "Cruel April." Reporting on what they witnessed that day, Damir Sagolj and Ambika Ahuja of Reuters wrote: “Thai troops fired rubber bullets at opposition "Red Shirts" as they moved in to clear a protest site in the biggest confrontation in the month-long campaign for new elections, witnesses said. At least 93 people, including 22 soldiers and police, were injured 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, hospital officials said. At least five suffered gunshot wounds, including a freelance photographer shot in the stomach, hospital officials said. [Source: Damir Sagolj and Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, April 10, 2010]
“Troops were given orders to "reclaim" the area three days after a state of emergency was declared. Soldiers have also massed at the main protest site in the upmarket Rachaprasong hotel and shopping area, apparently ready to move in and disperse an estimated 8,000 Red Shirts, including women and children, who used taxis to barricade themselves in. The numbers were growing by the hour, with protest leaders rallying people to the main site, claiming safety in numbers. [Ibid]
"We are asking for the Phan Fah bridge area back and we are about 200 metres to the main stage where about 4,000 protesters are,"army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. He said the troops had been chasing protesters down Rajdumnoen Road and using tear gas, warning shots into the air and smoke bombs. "We will keep moving down the road and will remove the main stage at the rally site," he said. On the stage, a Red Shirt protest leader said the army was "hurting people". "Please come out. Help us reclaim the area back or the army will kill us, Red Shirt brothers and sisters!" he said. "Do not panic. We have to stick with non-violence." The crowd repeatedly chanted "Abhisit, get out!" [Ibid]
Later The Christian Science Monitor reported: “Thousands of red-shirted protesters in cars, pickups, and motorbikes took to the streets carrying several empty coffins, two days after deadly clashes with government troops near a rally site. The parade looped around a subdued city. The somber mood was driven home by the coffins draped in flags on the back of pickup trucks, with a framed formal photo of slain protesters. In contrast to the boisterous defiance of the protesters, Mr. Abhisit has used solemn televised addresses to tell his story. He has blamed rogue gunmen, or “terrorists,” for the intense violence (at least 21 people died and 800 were injured) and emphasized the need for a full investigation into the killings of both soldiers and protesters. State television has broadcast repeated images of soldiers coming under fire from bullets and explosives. [Source: Simon Montlake, Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2010]
Vinai Dithajon, a Thai photojournalist at the scene of the clash in front of the 1st Army Regional Headquarters, told Human Rights Watch that “soldiers and riot police initially formed a line in front of Army Headquarters and slowly moved towards the protesters, pushing them back towards the UDD camp at Makkhawan Bridge. The situation then intensified as more Red Shirts arrived to defend the camp, then briefly calmed as soldiers awaited new orders and received water from Red Shirt protesters who knelt before them, only to worsen again when soldiers ordered the Red Shirts to leave the camp, donning gas masks and threatening to use teargas if they refused. Additional soldiers armed with assault rifles also appeared and tried unsuccessfully during the afternoon and night to take control of the Phan Fa Bridge camp and Rajdamnoen Road. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
“The clashes became steadily more violent. Vinai described what happened until he was himself shot and wounded by one soldier at approximately 4:30 p.m.: The military warned the protesters they would use teargas if the protesters refused to move, and put on their gas masks. Other soldiers arrived armed with M16s as well. Then the military fired teargas at the Red Shirts, but the wind brought the teargas back on the soldiers and many of them were overcome by the gas; they didn’t all have masks. Some of the Red Shirts started to run. Then the shooting started. Soldiers were running away from their own teargas. The Red Shirts moved close to the UN building and started throwing things at the soldiers, and the soldiers fired rubber bullets. The protesters threw whatever they could at the soldiers, whatever they could find in the cooking tent, eggs, cooking oil, whatever. The military moved and stopped, moved and stopped. The soldiers separated in smaller groups. They fought for about 15 minutes and then they took a break, the protesters started begging the soldiers not to attack the camp and gave them water. [Ibid]
“Then another group of soldiers started firing their water cannon and teargas from the side of the Government House. I started to go over there, but I heard many gunshots and decided to walk back to the Red Shirt barricade. The soldiers and the Red Shirts were fighting again for about 30 minutes or so. The soldiers were firing rubber bullets at the protesters, and their M16s mostly up in the air. I tried to photograph them firing rubber bullets and then saw that the soldiers were also aiming their M16s at the crowd, but not firing at that moment. I kept photographing as the Red Shirts charged the soldiers and the soldiers ran away. There were many people injured there from the rubber bullets and the tear gas. The Red Shirts were charging with bamboo sticks so the soldiers moved back a bit. [Ibid]
Black Shirt Behind the April 10 Violence?
The Christian Science Monitor reported: “As more details emerge of the carnage military observers say Thai troops stumbled into a trap set by agents provocateurs with military expertise. By pinning down soldiers after dark and sparking chaotic battles with unarmed protesters, the unknown gunmen ensured heavy casualties on both sides. Some attackers were caught on camera and seen by reporters. Snipers targeted military ground commanders, indicating a degree of advance planning and knowledge of Army movements, say Western diplomats briefed by Thai officials. While leaders of the demonstrations have disowned the use of firearms and say their struggle is nonviolent, it is unclear whether radicals in the movement knew of the trap. [Source: Simon Montlake, Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2010]
“Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the Red Shirts, denied any links to rogue elements. “Most of the reds are fighting with their bare hands or rocks or water bottles. If this was a third hand we’d like to know who it was. It definitely wasn’t us,” he said. Some observers questioned how the military could have blundered into battle without adequate preparation. Agents provocateurs, known to Thais as Third Hands,” have helped foment past political conflicts, and appeared in a 2008 confrontation involving protesters from a rival royalist camp that supports the current government.” [Ibid]
Some blamed “black shirt” militiamen that supported the Red Shirts. Human Rights Watch reported: “The UDD’s public deployment of hundreds of security guards dressed in uniforms resembling those of the paramilitary Thahan Phran implied a militaristic element to the protest movement. Indeed, many assumed that Red Shirt security guards were behind the armed violence against government forces. However, Human Rights Watch’s investigations found that the attacks did not originate with Red Shirt Guards, but with a secretive armed element within the UDD whom protesters and media called the “Black Shirts” or “Men in Black”—though not all were dressed in black. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
“Members of these armed groups were captured on photographs and film armed with various military weapons, including AK-47 and M16 assault rifles, as well as M79 grenade launchers, during their clashes with government security forces. A journalist, who spent several days together with a group of armed militants at the Ratchaprasong protest camp, described to Human Rights Watch his experience with the Black Shirts: The day I met up with the group, they were near Lumphini Park and the Rama IV [road] junction, living in a tent. I was not allowed to photograph them. I met about 17 or 18 of them, but they said they were part of a group of 30. They had more people helping them, helpers and their own medics. They were all ex-military, and some of them were still on active duty. Some of them were paratroopers, and at least one was from the Navy. They had AR-15s, TAR-21s, M16s, AK-47s [military assault rifles], but I didn’t see them with M79s [grenade launchers]. They told me that their job was to protect the Red Shirt protesters, but their real job was to terrorize the soldiers. [Ibid]
“[T]hese guys were fearless. They operated mostly at night, but sometimes also during the day. They went out in small teams [to confront the army]....They didn’t use walkie-talkies, just mobile phones and runners [to deliver messages]. I saw no interaction with the Red Shirt leaders. But these guys were contacted by someone, someone recruited them to come, I have no idea who. Someone provided them with weapons…. They rationed their bullets—when they went out they had 30 bullets [each]. They weren’t really “black” shirts—they were sometimes in green military uniforms and others dressed like Red Shirt protesters. They didn’t have any relationship with the Red Guards, and weren’t interested in dealing with the Red Shirt leaders.… They took their work very seriously. The guys I met, they knew how to move and shoot. They also had experience handling explosives.… The Black Shirts didn’t come to try and take territory—they shoot and then they leave, they hit [the soldiers] and retreat. [Ibid]
“Human Rights Watch examined a video [shot during the April 10th violence] released by Agence France Presse that shows Col. Romklao Thuwatham, in charge of the military operation near Phan Fa Bridge, trying to give orders to his troops from atop an armored personnel carrier. A green laser beam can be seen pointed at him. Seconds later 40mm grenades fired from grenade launchers explode, killing Romklao and severely wounding other senior officers. UDD leaders loathed Romklao, deputy chief of staff of the army’s 2nd Infantry Division, because he commanded the April 2009 dispersal of UDD protesters in Bangkok at the Dindaeng junction. [Ibid]
Olivier Sarbil, a French photojournalist and a former soldier, was behind army lines in Din So Road on April 10 when Black Shirts attacked soldiers with grenades and gunfire. He told Human Rights Watch: “The army had APCs [armored personnel carriers] in [Din So] street, they had three platoons [of soldiers]. The army was playing some music to try and calm the people down. The Red Shirts were pushing a bit. The army had used teargas but the wind made it go back against them so one platoon fell back [into Din So Street]. Then the soldiers started to shoot in the air, and then they got hit by a grenade. They fell back and had injured [soldiers] with them, so to give cover to their wounded they returned fire. The Black Shirts were ahead of them, attacking. I don’t think the army intended to shoot the Red Shirts, but they had to return fire. The commander [Col. Romklao] was in the front when he was killed—I was too far back to see the Black Shirts, but I could see their fire incoming at us. It only lasted a few minutes, but the soldiers lost all of their armored cars except for one. Then they treated their wounded—they had at least 30 wounded soldiers at the back of the soi [small street]. It all happened very quickly, and I stayed until it cleared up, about 40 minutes. The protesters took some Thai soldiers prisoner and brought them to the stage, there was still some incoming fire and the soldiers returning fire. [Ibid]
Calls for Election in the Midst of the Red Shirt Protests
During the rallies Thaksin spoke to the Red Shirt protesters at the rallies via telephone and video links. In April, Thaksin himself called for immediate snap elections to end the stand-off. At that point he stopped speaking via telephone and video links at Red Shirt rallies he said because the protests had gone beyond fighting for his cause. “Initially, people were fighting for me, who they felt was unfairly treated, but now more and more people are fighting for justice and democracy. They don’t want the elite to keep interfering with democracy.”
A UDD proposal for elections in three months was rejected by Abhisit. In late April Thailand’s election body called the dissolution of the ruling party based on allegations that Abhisit’s Democratic Party received an illegal multi-million dollar donation during a 2005 election.
In May, Abhisit responded to demands by protesters by unveiling a roadmap to reconciliation and offered to dissolve parliament in September and hold elections in November if the protesters ended their hold on Bangkok. Abhisit insisted he wouldn’t negotiate until the protesters went home while the protesters demanded the opposite. The road map was tentatively accepted by the UDD, but later demanded additional conditions allegedly at the request of Thaksin Shinawatra. The government declined to add the conditions and no compromise could be made.
Red Shirt Protests Escalates in May 2010
After the violence of May 14 the state of emergency was expanded to 17 provinces and the military commenced an extended crackdown, dubbed by the Thai media as "Savage May." An additional 41 civilians deaths occurred (including one Italian journalist) and more than 250 were injured, including soldiers. One military death occurred, apparently from accidental friendly fire. The government claimed all civilians killed were either armed terrorists or civilians shot by terrorists, and noted some civilians were shot by terrorists disguised in Army uniforms. The military declared the area a "live fire zone", in which anybody, be they protester, resident, tourist or journalist would be shot on sight, with medics banned from entering.
On May 14, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon encouraged protesters and the government to return to dialogue. On May 16, UDD leaders said again they were ready for talks as long as the military pulled back, but the government demanded the unconditional dispersal of the protesters. The government rejected a Senate call for a ceasefire and Senate-mediated negotiations. Government troops threw up a cordon around the protest site, a ''tent city'' at the Rachaprasong intersection, paralyzing the heart of Bangkok. Hundreds of women and children took refuge in a temple inside the protest area.
Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Thai troops clashed with protesters for a third day in Bangkok as streets in the center of the Asian metropolis became battlegrounds and authorities struggled to contain demonstrators. Explosions and street fighting have killed 17 people and wounded nearly 160 since the government attempted Thursday to seal off the 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) zone the Red Shirt protesters have occupied. Fighting spread to several streets leading to the encampment, and the army set up barricades in an attempt to seal off the area, where all shops, hotels and businesses were closed. Demonstrators, meanwhile, accused government snipers of picking people off with head shots. [Source: Denis D. Gray , Associated Press, May 15, 2010]
Troops have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds on demonstrators after they set fire to tires and a police bus on Friday. The government accuses them of using guns, grenades and firebombs. Soldiers unrolled razor wire across roads leading to the Ratchaprarop area and pinned Thai and English-language notices saying "Live Firing Zone" and "Restricted Area. No Entry."
Black Shirt Involvement in the May Violence During the Red Shirt Protests
According to the Human Rights Watch report: “A Thai journalist stationed near Bon Kai junction said the Black Shirt militants he encountered during the May 17-19 clashes were well-armed, appeared to be trained in military tactics, and seemed to have a separate command line from the Red Shirt Guards: From what I saw, the Black Shirt militants and the Red Shirt protesters were fighting alongside each other in the areas around Bon Kai junction. But they did not share the same command line. The Red Shirts seemed to be driven by anger as they saw soldiers moving in and opening fire at the protesters. They burned tires and used slingshots to shoot metal bolts, rocks, and fire crackers at soldiers. They also tried to use petrol bombs and homemade rockets, made of PVC [durable plastic] and metal pipes, to attack soldiers. But the aim of their rockets was not accurate enough to hit soldier bunkers and cause any serious damage. Some of the Red Shirts went out on foot and motorcycles to challenge soldiers to come out from their bunkers and fight openly. But they had to dash back behind the barricades when soldiers shot them with rubber bullets and live rounds. This cat-and-mouse game went on all day. I only saw two of the Red Shirts firing at soldiers with revolver pistols. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
“The Black Shirts, on the other hand, were well armed. They attacked soldiers with AK-47 and HK-33 assault rifles, and M79 grenade launchers. They were also very cautious when they moved around, using smoke as their cover. They appeared to benefit from the havoc created by the Red Shirts, which distracted soldiers as well. The Black Shirts did not stay in one spot for too long. They moved around, took their positions, opened fire, and then retreated. The way they operated reminded me of those with military training. Some of the Black Shirts used walkie-talkies, while others use mobile phones, to communicate with each other. Their operations seemed to be coordinated by a man who always had sunglasses on. At one point, I heard him giving orders to the Black Shirts to fire M79 grenades at the bunkers and sniper posts of soldiers. But when I asked the Black Shirts about that man, they told me I should not raise that question again if I want to stay behind their line. The Red Shirts that I talked to said they did not know who that man was either. Nevertheless, they believed that the Black Shirts were there to protect them and help them fight more effectively.”
“Live-Fire Zones” During the May Violence During the Red Shirt Protests
According to the Rights Watch Report: “Following the shooting of Khattiya on the evening of May 13 and the fierce gunfire exchanges that followed, the government allowed soldiers greater leeway to use live fire. Beginning on May 14, Thai security forces faced demonstrators who were better organized and resorted more quickly to violent tactics. Groups of mainly young men now openly attacked the army at the barricades, especially in Bon Kai and Din Daeng, using flaming tires, petrol bombs, slingshot-fired metal balls, and powerful homemade explosives and other weapons. Most of the young men who joined the fight at the barricades seemed to have little in common with the UDD protesters at the camp. On numerous occasions, Black Shirt militants appeared at the barricades to join the fight, firing assault weapons and M79 grenade launchers at soldiers. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
“During the clashes that occurred between May 14 and May 18, the new rules of engagement either facilitated more shootings of demonstrators or were simply ignored. Between the shooting of Khattiya and the final dispersal of the protest camp on May 19, at least 34 protesters and 2 soldiers were killed in the clashes, and another 256 wounded. Human Rights Watch’s investigations found that army snipers in buildings overlooking the protest sites, as well as soldiers on the defensive barricades on the ground, frequently fired on protesters who were either unarmed or posed no imminent threat of death or serious injury to the soldiers or others. Many of those whom soldiers targeted apparently included anyone who tried to enter the “no-go” zone between the UDD barricades and army lines, or who threw rocks, petrol bombs, or burning tires towards the soldiers—from distances too great to be a serious threat to the soldiers’ lines. [Ibid]
“Video footage and eyewitness accounts show the army frequently fired into crowds of unarmed protesters, often wounding and killing several. Nelson Rand, a foreign journalist, described to Human Rights Watch how he was repeatedly shot as he tried to cross the street near Lumphini Park to reach a second group of Red Shirt protesters: I first was filming with the army on Wireless Road, close to the Lumphini police station. Then I ran across to the Red Shirt side. I was near the Lumphini police station. I wanted to cross the street because there was another group of Red Shirts there as well. As I ran across the street, I was shot in my wrist. I kept running and ended up beside another person who was shot and he was waving a white towel. As I got down, I was shot again in the leg. I was screaming for help. I didn’t see any armed people around there amongst the Reds. All the shots were coming from the army, as far as I know. A Red Shirt security guard ran across the street and grabbed me by the arm, he later told me I was shot again in the side as he was dragging me but I had lost consciousness by then.” [Ibid]
Bloody and Fiery End of the Red Shirt Protests in May 2010
The protest ended after 10 weeks on May 19 when the army cracked down on the Red Shirt’s encampment. . In the early morning of May 19, armored vehicles led the final assault into Ratchaprasong, killing at least five, including an Italian journalist. Soldiers were reported to have fired on medical staff who went to the aid of the shooting victims. By 1.30 pm, UDD leaders surrendered to police and told protesters to give themselves up.
Dozens of arson attacks broke out nationwide. In Bangkok red-shirt targets included the Central World building and various banks and government buildings. Among the people arrested and charged for arson were a number of Red Shirt supporters. A curfew was declared and troops were authorized to shoot on sight anybody inciting unrest. An undisclosed number of arrests and detentions occurred.
In the midst of the violence, Reuters reported: “Rioting and fires swept Bangkok after troops stormed a protest encampment, forcing protest leaders to surrender, but sparking clashes that killed at least four people and triggered unrest in northern Thailand. Protesters torched five buildings, including the Thai stock exchange and Central World, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store complex, and attacked local Channel 3 television station as riots spread across the city of 15 million people. Power was lost in typically bustling Sukhumvit Road district, an area packed with tourists and high-end residential complexes, just hours after the army said the situation involving thousands of anti-government protesters was under control. [Source: Reuters, May 19, 2010]
“The chaos followed a military operation in the morning in which troops in armored vehicles and firing semi-automatic weapons advanced on an area occupied for more than six weeks by thousands of the “Red Shirt” demonstrators. As they surrounded the main protest site, top protest leaders offered to surrender, as supporters urged them to fight on, many screaming and crying as gun fire rang out nearby. Moments later, live television showed four Red Shirt protest leaders in police custody and an army spokesman said in a television broadcast the protest site was under army control and the military had halted operations. [Ibid]
“But that didn't stop the unrest after six days of chaotic street fighting between protesters and troops that descended into urban warfare, killing 39 people and wounded 329. Minutes after they surrendered, three grenades exploded outside the main protest site, badly wounding two soldiers and a foreign journalist, a Reuters witness said. Rioting was seen in five areas of the city as protesters lit fires and burned tires. Some hotels set up wooden barricades. Violence also spread to northeast Thailand, a Red Shirt stronghold, where protesters stormed a town hall complex in the city of Udon Thani, setting a building ablaze, and torched a second town hall in Khon Kaen. [Ibid]
“Troops and armored vehicles broke through the protesters' three-meter-high (10 feet) barricades of tires and bamboo, and fired tear gas and automatic rifle-fire at the protesters. Two bodies were found on Ratchadamri Road, which leads to the main protest site after troops followed the army vehicle into the encampment, a Reuters witness said. They appeared to have been shot. The “Red Shirts' fired back, witnesses said. Three journalists were among 50 people wounded and one Western journalist, identified as an Italian, was killed. [Ibid]
“Protesters ignited walls of tires as the troops arrived, causing thick black smoke to billow high over skyscrapers and hiding thousands of demonstrators who have occupied the heart of Bangkok's commercial district for more than six weeks. Several buildings were on fire on the periphery of the protest encampment, and tires were set ablaze are various other spots in the city of 15 million people and a popular tourist destination. [Ibid]
“At least six people died in the turmoil after troops in armoured vehicles pushed into the city-centre camp, prompting protest leaders to surrender. Troops, authorised to shoot looters and arsonists, pursued operations through the night. Authorities imposed the curfew initially on the capital, but later extended it to 21 provinces -- about a third of the total -- after outbursts of unrest in seven regions, particularly in the north, a "Red Shirt" stronghold. [Ibid]
The unrest, was the "most widespread and most uncontrollable" political violence Thailand has ever seen, political historian Charnvit Kasetsiri told Reuters. Twenty-seven 27 buildings were set ablaze in Bangkok, including the Thailand’s stock exchange, main power company, banks, a mvie theater and one of Asia’s largest shopping malls. Town halls were set alight in three northern areas. [Ibid]
A foreign military analyst who accompanied the soldiers during the assault told Human Rights Watch he was stunned by the poor standard of the military operation: “The whole operation was staggering in its incompetence. You had scared young conscripts blazing away at the tents in Lumphini Park without any fire control. There wasn’t the command and control that you would expect during such an operation. There were two main operations, the movement up the road and the operation to clear the park. They were totally uncoordinated. When I was with the troops in the park along the fence, they were opening fire at people in the park, including on the other military unit that was inside the park. You had incipient “friendly fire” incidents. The park was used essentially as a free-fire zone, the soldiers moved and took shots along Wireless and Rama IV Road. [Source: Human Rights Watch Report, Descent Into Chaos, May 3, 2011]
After the Red Shirt Protests in May 2010
After the bloody crackdown Abhisit promised an independent probe into "all events" surrounding the Red Shirt protests, and called for reconciliation to heal deep political divisions. "Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house. Now, our house has been damaged. We have to help each other," he said in a nationally broadcast address on television. [Source: AP, May 21, 2010]
AP reported: “Abhisit said authorities have restored order in Bangkok, where soldiers overran an encampment of Red Shirt protesters after a week of street fighting. He acknowledged that "huge challenges" lay ahead in overcoming the divisions, which he said can be achieved through a five-point reconciliation plan that he had announced earlier. "That plan is based on the principle of participation, democracy and justice," he said. The plan includes economic and media reforms and aims to reduce social an economic divisions in Thai society, which the protesters had been railing against. But he made no mention of new elections, a key demand of the Red Shirts. [Ibid]
Abhisit’s insistence that the military was not responsible for a single death or injury was widely mocked. Videos aired on YouTube that clearly showed military snipers firing at civilians were seen by many Thais. Fifty-one protesters remained missing as of June 8. Emergency rule was continued for several months after the protests ended. After some haggling elections were announced in May 2011 and finally took place in July 2011.
After the rallies seven “Red Shirt” leaders were arrested on terrorism charges. The seven leaders turned themselves in but were detained until February 2011, when they were freed on bail after Red Shirts threatened to stage more protests unless bail was granted. At that time 180 Red Shirts were still in jail.
Between the Red Shirt Protests in the Spring of 2010 and Elections in July 2011
A proposal made during the Red Shirt protests to hold elections in November 2010 were pushed into the future following a failure to come to agreement during the crisis. In June 2010, Abhisit reshuffled his cabinet and survived a no-confidence vote by a vote of 246 to 186. In July emergency rule was scaled down to about a third of Thailand. In August there were relatively small red short protests over the state of emergency laws and calls for revenge over the killing of Red Shirt protesters during he 2010 spring protests. Two grenade attacks killed one person and injured 11. The state of emergency that was declared during the spring protest was ended in December 2010.
By the fall of 2010 things were pretty much back to normal. Tourists in Bangkok were out in large numbers and the Thai economy was booming. Central World, which was located near the heart of the Red Shirt encampment and was badly damaged by arson attacks, was 80 percent open by October 2010. The cost of rebuilding the mall was around $90 million.
Abhisit government's passed several major amendments on electoral laws in February 2011, transforming the constituency vote from multiple-seats-per-constituency to single-seat-per-constituency, reducing the number of constituency MPs, and increasing the proportional party list MPs. In the previous general elections in 2007, the Democrat Party had lost the constituency vote but won the proportional party list vote.
In February Abhisit announced that parliament would be dissolved by June. In March after Abhisit barely survived a no-confidence vote it was announced that parliament would be dissolved by the first week of May 2011. In May, Abhisit announced that he would dissolve the lower house of parliament to hold an election in July. King Bhumibol Adulyadej signed his approval the dissolution decree the same day.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2014