Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts Scuffle in Bangkok

Events in Bangkok yesterday provided a reminder of ongoing political tensions in Thailand, with rival red shirt and yellow shirt supporters involved in street clashes.

The Bangkok Post reports:

Confrontations between the red- and yellow-shirt groups are likely to intensify after yesterday’s clash outside the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) left scores of people from both sides injured.

The clash erupted around noon during a stand-off between red shirts and yellow shirts who had gathered outside the CSD.

Tensions escalated about 11am when a group of yellow shirts smashed the windshield of a truck belonging to red-shirt radio station FM90.25.

An ensuing scuffle left red-shirt member Visorndaeng Traisuwaan, 35, with a head injury.

A yellow-shirt member, Chatchai Sutheesopon, 48, who was accused of carrying a hand gun by the red shirts, also suffered a head injury after he was hit in the back of the head during the scuffle. Police who searched him later found no weapons on him.

The Post says the unrest began when yellow shirts gathered to support an ex-teacher who had accused a prominent red shirt, Darunee Kritbunyalai, of lèse-majesté. The red shirts, meanwhile, had assembled to support Darunee.

The story continues:

The ugly confrontation carried on for about two hours before supporters of Ms Manasnant began to retreat to nearby department stores, seeing they were outnumbered by red shirts whose numbers grew with new arrivals.

The stand-off ended about 3pm after the area around the CSD compound along with most of Bangkok was hit by heavy downpours.

You can see some photos and a video of the clashes in a Thai Rath video, which is embedded above and on YouTube here. Things heat up a couple of minute in. Thai Rath also has a story (in Thai) here.

A brief ABC Australia report puts the numbers of protesters at 200 per camp.

Elsewhere, a Bangkok Post editorial headlined “Minor clash, strong message” says:

The confrontation, which culminated in a clash, appeared to be intentional. Both sides used their social media to advise their members for days about a scheduled meeting between a lawyer of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and Crime Suppression Division (CSD) officers on a defamation case.

And:

“The situation was contained, but what will happen if the situation goes out of control next time,” said Thawee Surarittikul, a political analyst at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

Both sides are waiting for an issue which could be a trigger point leading to a bigger protest,” he said.

The clashes seem notable to me in part because they involve red shirts and yellow shirts in direct confrontation. We often see these factions rallying separately, without engaging one another.

(Thai Rath links via BP.)

Reuters on Yesterday’s Red Shirt Rally

Reuters reports:

Thailand’s “red shirts” turned out in force on Sunday to warn the judiciary they will not stand by if a plan to amend the constitution is rejected, a rewrite critics say is aimed at allowing exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to come home.

And:

According to police estimates, 35,000 red shirts had gathered at Democracy Monument in central Bangkok by late afternoon, many from Thaksin strongholds in the north and northeast, meeting in a festive atmosphere under light police presence.

And:

The red shirts chose June 24 for their latest gathering as it marks the anniversary of a revolution that brought an end to absolute monarchy in 1932.

Red Shirt 112 Sticker Evokes Pizza Company Logo

2012 06 22 112 pizza co

Related to my last post

@Anasuya found this notable sticker today at a Red Shirt event here in Bangkok.

Yes, it refers to lèse-majesté — Article 112 of the Thai criminal code — and is modeled on…the Pizza Company logo.

Pizza Company restaurants are popular and widespread here in Thailand, and their advertisements often include a jingle with the number you dial for delivery: 1112.

Hence, the play on 112 and the (likely unintentionally misspelled) reference to “fast derivery.”

Yellow Shirts Protest Update: Next Week’s Bill Deliberation Cancelled

2012 06 02 yellow shirts front pages

A quick follow-up post on yesterday’s Yellow Shirt protests over the bill that could lead to Thaksin’s return…

Many people here in Thailand, as well as Thailand-watchers abroad, may well be thinking: Here we go again.

The WSJ reported yesterday:

Around 2,000 followers of the so-called Yellow Shirt movement swarmed around the Parliament building, preventing legislators from getting in. The action recalled the massive and sometimes violent political protests in recent years that at times destabilized business and tourism on one of Southeast Asia’s linchpin economies, and raised fears of a possible reprise in the weeks or months ahead.

Political analysts say Friday’s scenes show that a long-simmering question—the fate of Mr. Thaksin, who now lives in exile in Dubai—is coming to the boil, threatening a fragile détente between his supporters in the current government and the military and conservative bureaucrats who removed him from power in a bloodless coup in 2006.

And:

The siblings have made efforts to reconcile with the establishment forces that ousted Mr. Thaksin, say academics and Thailand analysts. Ms. Yingluck in particular has worked to build closer ties with military leaders and key establishment figures such as chief royal adviser, Prem Tinsulanonda, these people say. If the Yingluck government is intent on bringing Mr. Thaksin back to Thailand, they say, now is the time to push through the necessary legislation.

The story also touches on divisions in the Red Shirt camp and the prospects of the Yellow Shirts being able to organize sufficiently large protests going forward.

Reuters ran a story yesterday, as well.

AFP has this story today:

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Saturday warned the deeply divided kingdom faces a “cycle of violence” unless steps are taken towards reconciliation after years of civil unrest.

And finally, MCOT reports today:

House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont on Saturday decided to cancel next week’s parliamentary sessions regarding charter amendment and national reconciliation bills following recent chaos and disruption in the parliament.

Deputy House Speaker Charoen Chankomol said Mr Somsak decided to suspend the planned meeting on June 5 to deliberate the charter amendment and the June 6-7 sessions on the proposed reconciliation bills.

Mr Charoen said the House Speaker will call a meeting of representatives from both the government and opposition next Tuesday to find solutions, and if there is still problem with the deliberation of the reconciliation bills, other pending bills may be raised for consideration instead.

Meanwhile, the Red Shirts themselves held a rally today at the Thunderdome arena, in Bangkok’s north.

This Tweet and image came through at 1:20 p.m. Bangkok time from @LyNGinG.

So, what comes next?

Will Yingluck and Pheu Thai continue to push for the bills’ passage, perhaps a week or two down the line? Or will they abandon their efforts for now?

Will the Yellow Shirts continue to block Parliament in an effort to derail voting?

Will the Red Shirts begin protesting again?

What if the vote goes ahead, and the bill is passed?

Image above: Today’s IHT and Bangkok Post front pages.

Red shirts to hold anniversary rally on March 12

AP has this story today:

Thailand’s ‘Red Shirts’ urge release of colleagues

Seven recently freed leaders of Thailand’s anti-government “Red Shirt” movement called Sunday for the release of more than 180 of their colleagues who remain jailed since a violent military crackdown last year.

The seven gathered for a ceremony at Bangkok’s Wat Pathuwanaram temple, where six people were fatally shot last year as the army swept demonstrators from the streets to end weeks of mass protests that shook the city and left nearly 90 people dead.

And:

The Red Shirts have nevertheless vowed to stage another large rally on March 12 – the anniversary of the start of last year’s mass protests, which shut down swathes of the city including major shopping malls and hotels, and ended with more around 1,400 people injured.

(Emphasis mine.)

7 Red Shirt leaders out on bail

2011 02 22 reds

AP:

Thailand Court Grants Bail for Red Shirt Leaders

A Thai court has granted bail for seven leaders of the antigovernment “Red Shirt” movement detained after mass protests and riots ended in May.

BBC:

Thailand’s red-shirt leaders freed on bail

Seven leaders of Thailand’s “red-shirt” protest movement have been freed on bail after nine months in jail on terrorism charges.

Separately another red-shirt, Surachai Damwattananusorn, has been arrested on charges of insulting the monarchy.

The government has meanwhile extended implementation of the Internal Security Act for another month.

It is trying to contain continuing protests by both the red-shirts and the nationalist “yellow-shirt” protesters.

The decision to release all seven red-shirt leaders and a protest guard was a surprise. At most, two leaders were expected to be freed.

There are also stories from Reuters and Bloomberg.

(Image: BBC.)

Social media and Thailand’s red shirt protests

Note: This post contains a story I wrote for the fall, 2010 issue of Dateline, the magazine of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. I am reproducing the article here with the club’s permission. I have added images and links to various Web sites, but the text remains the same.

Social media and Thailand’s red shirt protests
By Newley Purnell

While covering Bangkok’s anti-government red shirt protests during April and May, Associated Press journalist Thanyarat Doksone read a report on Twitter from a Thai radio station saying that the demonstrations had spread to the Asoke area of the Thai capital. 

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She was in a different part of town, so the Lampang native typed a message to her own “followers” on the microblogging service to see if any of them could confirm the development. But it turned out not to be true. One of her followers was in the area, noted that all was quiet — and even posted an image to prove that there was no unrest of note.  

The episode underlines a changing communications ecosystem: As in other countries where news is breaking, tech-savvy residents in Thailand used a variety of outlets to stay abreast of the rapidly developing events during the red shirt demonstrations.  

As in years past, people who wanted to follow the unrest could read newspaper reports, watch the events on TV, listen to the radio, and speak with friends and family. But this spring, unlike during previous bouts of political instability, Thailand residents increasingly took advantage of social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to share and collect information about what was happening around them. 

Twitter’s world-wide rise has been rapid. When ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, Twitter’s three founders in the U.S. had just launched the service. Now, four years later, the company says the site receives 190 million visitors per month, and an astounding 65 million Twitter messages, or tweets, are sent out every day.

2011-01-21_abhisit_twitter.tiff

Prominent figures in Thailand who have Twitter accounts include Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (112,000 followers), Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij (41,000 followers), and Nation editor Sutichai Yoon (83,000 followers). And of course, much to the government’s chagrin, former Prime Minister Thaksin (114,000 followers) — or one of his aides — posts frequent snippets during his many travels.

Around the world, critics dismiss the service’s 140-character-or-less bursts as shallow and irrelevant. After all, goes the saying, do we really care what you had for breakfast? But Twitter, increasingly, has political implications. 

In June 2009, the service was used inside and outside Iran to share information about events on the ground following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial election. Amid media censorship inside Iran, the U.S. State Department even asked Twitter to continue operating rather than shut down briefly for scheduled maintenance.

Here in Thailand, Mark MacKinnon, East Asia correspondent for Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper, says that Twitter helped him in reporting the red shirt protests by allowing him to gather information from a wide variety of outlets. He used the service to take the temperature in various parts of town, and found that his postings allowed him to preserve — and publish — bits of local color throughout the day that might otherwise have been confined to his notebook. His newspaper even ran collections of his running tweets, providing a compelling narrative for global readers as events developed here. 

Twitter would also play a more serious role during MacKinnon’s time in Bangkok. He was caught in the city’s Wat Pathum temple while reporting the military crackdown on May 19. MacKinnon was with Andrew Buncombe, a journalist for London’s Independent newspaper, when Buncombe was shot and injured after the temple came under fire. Neither Buncombe nor the other wounded civilians trapped inside were able to exit.

After calling embassies and hospitals, MacKinnon used Twitter to ask for help in urging authorities to stop the gunfire so that the injured could be evacuated. “People around me are dying because they can’t get to hospital across the road because of fighting,” he tweeted, along with a photo of some of the injured. 

The message was relayed, in turn, by his followers, and the dispatches were even posted on the Web site of London’s Guardian newspaper. Twitter “helped raise the volume,” he says, and “deserves some of the credit” in bringing about a resolution. 

Jon Russell, a Saraburi-based freelance journalist who publishes a popular blog about social media in Asia, notes that people had used Twitter in Thailand in years past, but that the service grew in popularity during the red shirt protests. Journalists and news outlets began using Twitter, embracing the “real time potential of the service in a way that had never been done before in Thailand.” 

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Russell notes that Facebook, too, has grown rapidly in the Kingdom, and that Thailand is among the top five fastest-growing Facebook markets globally. He says that while Twitter users tend to be open to debate, due to its closed nature, Facebook interactions can be more one-sided.

Eric Seldin, a veteran cameraman who runs Bangkok’s Thaicam Production Services, posted his observations and images to Twitter throughout the red shirt protests. His followers grew from approximately 400 to 800 within just a week, he says, as people increasingly craved information about the events unfolding in Bangkok. Seldin even used the service to guide a German camera crew with whom he was working. He could monitor events throughout the city, using Twitter as “original raw sourcing, and then double and triple confirming,” he says. “I could use Twitter as a clearinghouse.” 

He adds that the transparent nature of the service allowed users to quickly verify who was trustworthy and who wasn’t. Media might report one version of events, but individuals could quickly post images, videos, or text accounts — in real time — that refuted or supported these descriptions. “When there was misinformation” from the media or individuals, “people called them on it,” he says.

Richard Barrow, a prolific blogger who lives in Samut Prakarn and runs a network of Thailand-related Web sites, shared numerous images and accounts during the protests with his more than 5,000 followers. During the unrest, “Twitter provided us with a much faster and efficient source of breaking news,” he said in an email. “Literally. What is better than a someone on the scene taking pictures and uploading them onto Twitter and Facebook?” He adds that Thailand’s newspapers may have political biases, whereas so-called “citizen journalists” often do not.

After noticing that local papers weren’t keeping up with the rapidly developing events in Bangkok, Barrow even created a Google Map he labeled “Bangkok Dangerous.” He plotted on it, in English, locations where protests and clashes were taking place. He updated it frequently, and the guide ultimately filled a void: It has been viewed some 2.7 million times to date, he says.

2011-01-24_map.jpg

To be sure, Twitter and Facebook have their drawbacks. Reliability is one issue. Few people would use such services for their sole sources of information, and most regard them as a supplement to products of traditional journalism. Still, it’s clear to those who use Twitter, especially, that — just as in every other facet of life — some people inspire trust, while others do not. Readers — and those doing the tweeting — must proceed with caution.

Another risk is political polarization and the temptation to be more rude online than one would be in public. MacKinnon notes that social media tends to allow people to act differently toward others than the might otherwise. During the protests, he noticed exchanges on Twitter that included “things people wouldn’t say if they saw each other in the street.” he says. “People were being hateful.”

In addition, in a world of shorter attention spans and ever-proliferating media, there is another challenge to journalists: Twitter is yet another information stream to be monitored. And this leads, quite simply, to more work. 

Thanyarat says that Twitter can be quite helpful, “but it also adds the burden of fact checking.” she says. “You have to get through the noise to get at what’s really useful. And in a way it adds to your tasks.”

NYT/IHT: “Thai Inquiry Into Violence Falters”

Powerful story in the NYT/IHT today:

Thai Inquiry Into Violence Falters

BANGKOK — A zookeeper was shot and killed as he was leaving work. An antigovernment demonstrator who sought shelter in a Buddhist temple was shot five times but lived, possibly because a coin in his satchel deflected a bullet. A soldier who rushed to help a fallen comrade after an explosion suffered severe brain damage from a second blast.

The tales of the dead and wounded from the political violence last year in Bangkok could fill volumes. But they are not filling case dockets in the Thai courts.

Eight months after troops swept through Bangkok and dislodged protesters from their barricaded encampment, investigations into who was responsible for about 90 deaths and nearly 2,000 wounds have faltered.

Don’t miss the accompanying photos, “Portraits of the Wounded.”

Two takes (one satirical) on the ongoing red shirt protests at Rajaprasong

In the wake of Sunday’s rally, two different takes — one a news account, the other a sendup — on the ongoing red shirt protests at the Rajaprasong intersection.

First, from today’s Bangkok Post:

Red shirt rallies are making us broke, say angry retailers

2011-01-12_bkk_post_raj.jpg

Business operators, vendors and residents at the Ratchaprasong intersection have urged the government to regulate political gatherings, complaining that the shopping malls and other businesses in the area were being badly hit by the red shirt rallies.

About 2,000 business operators, vendors and employees yesterday gathered in front of Gaysorn Plaza shopping centre at 11.30am to oppose the use of Ratchaprasong intersection as a protest venue.

Putting aside the irony of protesting in Rajaprasong against protests in Rajaprasong, the UDD gatherings in the vicinity are a very real concern, and not just for a government that may feel jittery about continued displays of red shirt unity. I’ve spoken with people who work in the area, and the last several red shirt gatherings, while peaceful, have been quite disruptive. And certainly those residing in the nearby areas are feeling nervous, as well.

(Side note: I’ve heard speculation that the government intends to deal with the threat of red shirts blockading parts of the city again by simply not allowing them to mass in the way they did last year: That is, they would nip future Phan Fah bridge or Rajaprasong rallies in the bud, before demonstrators can seal off the areas. But couldn’t one of these Rajaprasong protests, some might wonder, quite easily turn permanent? What would the authorities do if the red shirts refused to leave?)

Then there’s an item today at Not the Nation, an Onion-like Web site that satirizes Bangkok’s English language daily The Nation:

Rajaprasong Vendors Demand Reds Buy More Handbags

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Retailers urge penniless protestors to step up consumption of luxuries

After suffering another weekend of lost sales due to large-scale UDD protests, the vendors of Bangkok’s Rajprasong shopping district have assembled for their own protest, demanding that future gatherings of red-shirts promise to buy more handbags, accessories, and high-end fashion items.

Calling themselves the Patriot’s Rajprasong Anti-Demonstration Association, or PRADA, the vendors asked for a “fair balance” between the political rights of the UDD and the mercantile rights of luxury retailers.

“We proudly serve this nation’s richest and most influential people and their need to pay 300% markups on ostentatious designer brands,” said Suksana Meechaiprap, the PRADA spokesperson and co-owner of Zenith watch shop in Gaysorn Plaza. “Our way of life, which is a cornerstone of traditional Thai culture, is under threat.”

On a more serious note, the next Rajaprasong rally is reportedly planned for Jan. 23.

Roger Arnold wins award for reporting on Red Shirt protests

I’m a few weeks late in noting this, but I wanted to point out that Bangkok-based journalist Roger Arnold has won the 2010 Rory Peck Trust award for his video news reporting.

The awards, which were given out last month, go to freelance cameramen and camerawomen.

Roger captured some compelling footage for the Wall Street Journal during the Red Shirt protests last spring.

This WSJ video, embedded below, contains some of his work.

I also suggest checking out this BBC story and accompanying video, in which Roger discusses covering the events.