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June 22th, 2010 : Demonstration and Suppression in Thailand

By Jaran Ditapichai

This text was sent to us by Jaran Ditapichai, an old friend of the Centre Lebret-Irfed. He is a leader of the UDD and former National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand. He survived the crackdown in May 2010 but has two arrest warrants and has to leave the country.
The article is the summary of the red shirt demonstration and suppression in April-May 2010.


After rallying and campaigning against Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government for one year, The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD)(1) or the ”Red Shirt movement” organized the March–May 2010 demonstration for the dissolution of parliament. It adopted a peaceful assembly policy. While the government increased security measures, establishing a government/military situation room for monitoring the protest, officially called the Peace-keeping Operations Command. It was headquartered at the 11th Infantry Regiment.

On March 9th, Abhisit imposed the Internal Security Act from 11th–23rd March. A 50,000-strong security force was deployed on Bangkok. Then the government claimed to have received intelligence that there was a terrorist threat of sabotage taking place . Deputy prime minister Suthep pointed out that the UDD protesters planned to "besiege government offices and residences of important figures, such as Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanon. In spite of this the grass roots Red Shirt movement mobilised from all over the country and began to flow into Bangkok on March 9th. Police and military checkpoints were set up along all main routes to inspect protesters’ caravans entering Bangkok, especially protesters coming from UDD strongholds in the North and Northeast. The government issued orders to detain any protesters found with weapons. The police issued a warning that bus operators transporting people to Bangkok without official permission could have their concessions revoked. The demonstration took place on March 14th along the Rajadamnen street. There were about 500,000 peaceful protesters, the largest political rally in Thai history. The UDD used several tactics, notably the collecting of 10 milliliters of blood from individual volunteer protesters and pouring the blood in a symbolic sacrifice at Government House and other sites in Bangkok. A large convoy of pickups, vans, and cars began flowing into Bangkok on March 20th. It was the first time that the red shirts were warmly welcomed by Bangkokians. On March 27th the Red Shirts peacefully marched to seven locations in Bangkok where Army troops had been stationed in preparation for a crackdown and convinced them to withdraw. At the same time there were dozens of bombings in Bangkok during the weeks of the protest, with nobody claiming responsibility and no arrests being made.

Televised Talks between the leaders of the UDD and Prime Minister Abhisit’s coalition government were held between the 28th and 29th of March. These talks failed to result in a resolution of the situation. On April 3rd the UDD organized another rally at the Rajaprasong intersection(Bangkok’s commercial center). Prime minister Abhisit declared a state of emergency on the evening of April 8th. Government troops barricaded the uplink station of the Thaicom satellite to prevent it from airing People Channel, a popular TV station sympathetic to the UDD.

On the 10th of April, government troops tried to crackdown on the demonstration at Phan Fah Bridge. Twenty-one people were killed (almost all of them were shot by snipers), with more than 800 people injured. In that bloody event, the unknown "black shirts" fired at soldiers killing a commanding officer and soldiers. Other officers and soldiers were injured as well. Consequently, the government began to label the Red Shirts as “terrorists”.

Tensions continued to grow, as pro-government rallies started to appear alongside the anti-government ones. In the mid of April the protesters created an encampment at Rajaprasong intersection, surrounding themselves with a barricade of tires and bamboo spears. On April 22nd, a series of explosions in Bangkok killed at least one person and injured more than 85 others, including four foreigners. At least some of the explosions were caused by grenades, which the government claimed were fired from the Red Shirt encampment. On April 28th, Thai security forces and anti-government protesters clashed on the outskirts of Bangkok, with troops firing both over and then directly into a crowd of Red Shirts to keep them from expanding their demonstrations. At least 16 protesters were wounded and one soldier was killed. As the protests dragged on, they used the fortified perimeter around the Red Shirts’ main protest site in central Bangkok to shoot fireworks and other improvised explosives at security forces sent to contain the protesters.

The talks between the leaders of the UDD and representatives of the government went on, Prime Minister Abhisit offered new general elections on November 14th. The UDD accepted his national reconciliation plan. However, on May 13th government soldiers started to encircle the Rajaprasong demonstration site . They used sniper rifles to shoot the protesters who tried to obstruct their operations. There were 37 deaths and more than 200 injured. Finally, on March 19th during the mid-morning hours, hundreds of soldiers began massing on the approach roads to the heavily fortified Rajaprasong protest camp. Armored tanks rammed into barriers constructed from sharpened bamboo staves and kerosene-soaked tires. The soldiers stormed the redshirt encampment in a bloody crackdown forcing anti-government leaders to surrender, but violent protests flared up across the city and country in response.

Below were some examples reports of the international medias such as Reuters, AP, AFP, journalists, independent reporters etc…

  • Using armoured vehicles the soldiers broke through make shift barricades in an operation that killed at least four people. Two journalists were among 50 people wounded and one western journalist, identified as an Italian is believed to dead.
  • Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn declared the first stage of the army operation to secure the area around Lumpini Park successful and said that some protest leaders had fled. He asked the public to inform police if any of the leaders were spotted.
  • The bodies of two men sprawled on the ground, one with a head wound and other apparently shot in the upper body. They were the first known casualties in the assault that began before dawn on a 1km square stretch of downtown Bangkok that protesters have occupied.
  • An AP photographer saw three foreign journalists shot. One was an Italian photographer shot in the chest. His eyes were rolled back and he showed no signs of life. A Dutch journalist walked into the hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The third journalist was a 53-year-old American documentary film-maker who was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg.
  • Troops are moving into the redshirts central city protest camp firing indiscriminately, as they seek to take back control of the capital’s streets.
  • As armoured personnel carriers, backed by heavy fire from soldiers, pushed into the barricades, protesters set fire to them, sending huge plumes of black smoke into the sky. Many protesters turned and fled, but troops met fierce resistance from a hardcore element within the red shirts group.
  • The army moved slowly and deliberately early, pausing after breaching the redshirts’ fortifications to check for bombs and booby traps. Protesters offered determined early resistance, but many then retreated and troops were able to progress more quickly through the camp. Retreating redshirts’ set fire to shelters and the hastily-constructed barricades behind them.
  • People are being shot at in Victory Monument, which surrounded by troops according to an unverified report on a red shirt Facebook group.It also links to footage of a fire at the city hall in Khon Kaen in north east Thailand.
  • Confirmation that violence is not confined to Bangkok – Reuters reports that the overnight curfew has been extended to 21 provinces across Thailand.
  • Meanwhile the press freedom campaign Reporters Without Borders has expressed dismay at the shooting of the photojournalist ’With two journalists killed and five wounded, the toll on the media has been heavy, while many others have only narrowly escaped death. We are stunned and outraged by the indiscriminate nature of this assault, which shows that the Thai authorities made little attempt to protect journalists in their desire to suppress the red shirt opposition.As in the case of Hiroyuki Muramoto, we call for an independent investigation into Fabio Polenghi’s death, including an autopsy and a ballistic study carried out in a transparent manner and, if necessary, with the help of foreign experts.’
  • Witnesses say at least six more bodies from the Bangkok unrest are lying in a Buddhist temple in the protest zone, according to Associated Press. If true the deaths would bring today’s toll to at least 12.They say the temple, Wat Pathum Vanaram, was supposed to be a sanctuary for protesters from the street violence but troops have yet to secure the surrounding area.Hundreds of people fled there after the army launched a crackdown to end a two-month standoff in the Thai capital.
  • Despite pleas from redshirt leaders for protesters to leave peacefully, many reds are angry and are looking to take out their frustration on anything they see as being representative of the ruling elite they have been protesting against."

In conclusion, even though the red shirts protest were brought under control, and peace was restored to Bangkok, serious questions remain about Thailand’s political future.The protest was ended the sentiment for democratic reform.Until now the government still keeps the Emergency decree in place, arrested 400 red shirt leaders all over the country, closed the red shirts media outlets and have frozen the bank accounts of more than 100 people. The red shirts people see Abhisit political regime more aristocratic dictatorship.They will stand up to fight with every means .

To ease this confrontation which is no longer as simple as a conflict between those mostly poor, rural Thaksin supporters and the elite and wealthier in Bangkok. It is the socio-political struggle between the democratic and aristocratic camp .The country needs an amnesty declaration for red and yellow, government leaders and protest leaders, a truth and reconciliation commission needs to be established, and new constitution needs to be written.

Footnotes

[1] - UDD is part of the red shirt movement and was formed after the coup d’etat in September 19th, 2006. It developed directly from the struggle against the Military dictatorship and Abhisit government. The UDD has become the biggest peoples political movement in Thailand. Its ideology is for the true democracy. However, it is often seen as being pro-Thaksin and harboring anti-monarchist tendencies.


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