Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Thailand political unrest, April 2010 - an update

Further to my post a few days ago about the ongoing political protests here in thailand, specifically in Bangkok, here is a very interesting and well-written news article regarding the situation from yesterday's New York Times:

Thai Protesters Refuse to Leave Central Bangkok District

Published: April 5, 2010

BANGKOK — Convoys of anti-government protesters coursed through Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon while thousands more demonstrators remained in the commercial heart of the city, where they continued to defy government orders to disperse.

Crowds of protesters steadily pushed back lines of unarmed soldiers in an attempt to make their way into the important commercial and tourist district of Sukhumvit in central Bangkok. It was nearly a festive atmosphere, with the protesters, known as red shirts, hugging and shaking hands with smiling soldiers.

“There’s no need to be afraid,” an army officer told the crowds through a bullhorn.

He then handed the bullhorn to a protest leader who shouted to the soldiers, “Join us!”

It was a scene of some camaraderie, and in recent days there has been talk in the capital of “watermelon soldiers” — green on the outside, red on the inside.

But there have been political and economic consequences to the ongoing protests as well. Many shopping malls were closed for a third day, and 43 bank branches in Thailand’s capital were shut as the economic toll of the protests rose.

On the outskirts of Bangkok, protesters broke into the Election Commission building, demanding the acceleration of an investigation into charges that a large Thai company made a multimillion-dollar payment to the governing Democrat Party. The group left after securing an agreement that results would be released on April 20, more than a week earlier than scheduled.

Protest leaders have kept the city on edge for the past three weeks with unpredictable processions of motorcycles and pickup trucks. They say they want to highlight double standards that benefit the elite at the expense of the poor.

Business groups said the protests had caused tens of millions of dollars in lost business over the past two days, not counting damage to the tourism industry and the country’s image.

So far, the government has not used force against the protesters. On Monday, it sought a court order to make protesters leave the commercial area and prevent them from entering other busy neighborhoods in Bangkok. The court turned down the order, however, saying the government already had such power under the Internal Security Act, which the government has invoked.

The protests stem from a 2006 military coup that removed Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon turned prime minister, after which the political party he led and a successor party were dissolved by the courts. Mr. Thaksin, who is overseas and has been sentenced in absentia on corruption charges, is still very popular in rural areas.

In theory, the Democrat Party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva could itself face dissolution if it is found guilty of accepting the illegal donation. Protesters describe it as a test case for the fairness of the system.

Publicly, the protest leaders, who claim to represent the prai, or lower-class Thais, are maintaining a hard line, demanding that Mr. Abhisit dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

“It is necessary for us to stage a fight this way,” Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader, was quoted as saying in the Thai news media. “The current situation is too severe to be treated with painkillers. It has reached a state where surgery is required.”

But with the Thai New Year, a major holiday, next week, the endgame for the protesters is unclear. The cheering bystanders who greeted the protesters when they first began their protests appear to have thinned, though they have not disappeared.

Suthichai Yoon, a well-known Thai columnist, wrote Monday that the red shirts were alienating Bangkok residents by paralyzing the shopping district.

“If the reason for the blockade is to invite people in Bangkok to join their cause of demanding that the prime minister dissolve Parliament, then there isn’t any need to do something this extreme as to cause the pulse of the city’s business center to come to a halt,” Mr. Suthichai said.

For myself, I wish to apologise to anyone and everyone who is adversely affected by these protests. But please try to understand that there is so much corruption here in the Thai governmental system that in fact it is much more newsworthy when someone is found NOT TO BE CORRUPT than when someone is found to be corrupt! Really!! So these protests are a good thing, at least in so far as they are highlighting to all Thai people, and all the watching world, just how bad this corruption problem is.

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