New fines for feeding elephants in Thailand

AP ran this interesting story yesterday:

BANGKOK — You can still feed elephants in Thailand’s bustling capital — but it could cost you.

Bangkok authorities said Monday anyone caught handing bunches of bananas or sugar cane to the hulking beasts — proffered by their handlers to make money — faces a $320 (10,000 baht) fine.

Thailand has about 2,400 domestic elephants. There is little demand these days for the animals’ traditional skills in logging and other labor, so owners sometimes loan them out for begging from tourists and locals in major cities.

Will the ordinance be enforced? We shall see.

Images from red shirt demonstrations at Rajaprasong last week (and the latest news)

Below are some images of the red shirt demonstrations that I snapped on Friday, May 7. I haven’t had a chance to post these photos until now, but I thought they’d be helpful in providing a sense of how things looked at the red shirts’ protest site as of several days ago.

But first, the latest news: The government said today (Wed.) that at midnight tonight, it will cut off water, electricity, phone services, public transportation, and food deliveries to the Rajaprasong area in order to force red shirt protesters to disperse.

Here’s an NYT story with more details. And here’s a story from the BBC, as well as one from Reuters. For some analysis, I suggest checking out this post from BP about the current state of affairs.

On to the images from Friday. As I noted on Twitter at the time ((Yes, I also tweeted a Seh Daeng sighting…)), the red shirt protesters appeared as dug in — and as resolute — as ever. You get the sense, walking around, that — as they’ve shown — they’re there to stay, at least until they get what they (or the red shirt leaders) want.

The protest site, as I’ve told others, resembles a massive tent city. It is a demonstration site, yes. But it is also a village in and of itself. There are facilities for sleeping, bathing, eating, and sanitation. There are red shirt “guards” who control roads leading to and within the site (see image below).

There are tents with TVs and DVD players set up, where footage of the April 10 clashes are played on a loop. There are foot massage services. And in addition to every manner of red shirt merchandise being on sale, there are even mobile phone charging services (see image below).

The bamboo barricade, near Silom, wasn’t heavily manned when I was there; most demonstrators had pulled back several hundred meters away, toward Rajaprasong. Below are several photos; there are a few more in the complete Flickr photoset.

Stage at Rajaprasong

Shelter in Rajaprasong

People in Rajaprasong, outside CentralWorld mall

Improvised shelter at Rajaprasong, outside CentralWorld mall

Sign at Rajaprasong

Mobile phone charging service at Rajaprasong

Food deliver at Rajaprasong

Red shirt "guards"

Barrier in Silom

Barrier in Silom

More on Thai government’s talks with red shirts

talks.jpg

A quick update to my previous post about Thai PM Abhisit’s talks with red shirt leaders here in Bangkok today.

The talks have concluded for today, and the discussions will resume tomorrow, says this Bangkok Post story. BP has also been sharing some observations on Twitter, as have @terryfrd, @tri26, and others.

The meeting was broadcast live on Thai TV. The PM and his two colleagues sat on one side of a table, all wearing blue shirts. The three red shirt leaders sat opposite them.

As you can see in the image above, the participants’ body language and facial expressions seemed relatively relaxed given the heated nature of the ongoing protests.

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

Thai PM agrees to talks with red shirt leaders

An interesting development here in Thailand today: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has agreed to meet for talks with red shirt leaders. The meeting is taking place now ((It was set to begin about 30 min. ago, at 4 p.m. local time at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, an educational center here in Bangkok.))

Abhisit had, until today, said he would not speak with the red leaders so long as they insisted on their demand to dissolve the House. That remains their goal, however.

This weekend saw some mysterious grenade attacks on state-run TV stations and on the 11th infantry command, the military base where Abhisit has been staying. And red shirt protesters reportedly stepped up their demonstrations at that compound.

Here are stories from AP, CNN.com, and BBC. And BP has a round-up of news links and some commentary.

Analysts say that Abhisit is unlikely to dissolve the House. But the red shirts are optimistic.

In a statement to media today, they say that while the talks are ongoing, demonstrators will remain at Phan Fa bridge on Rajadamnoen Rd., dancing and cheering and “waiting for the Parliament dissolution announcement today.”

Observations and questions as the red shirt protests come to an end (for now)

Now that the red shirt protests have come to an end (or paused?) ((The demonstrations seem to be over for now, that is. The red shirts say they’ll be back on Sat., March 27.)), here’s the question: What now?

Here are a few observations and questions, many of which I expect to re-visit in subsequent posts:

  • The reds shirts gained some credibility because the protests were peaceful. ((Note: there have been several mysterious grenade attacks at various locations in Bangkok of late. The Bangkok Post has the latest here. It is unclear who is behind these attacks. Both the red shirts and government blame each another.)) The violence that occurred in April, 2009 discredited the reds’ cause. And the Abhisit government dealt with the unrest successfully, boosting the PM’s stature.
  • The police — many of whom, I understand, were from the north and northeast of Thailand, like many of the red shirts — showed restraint in allowing the protesters to perform their “blood protests” in an orderly manner.

    No doubt the notion of a controlled protest that involves the splattering of human blood seems contradictory. But I can tell you, from witnessing the events at Government House and the prime minister’s residence, that the police dealt with the crowds in a measured, well-coordinated manner.

  • You might not get this impression from reading the local media here ((For more on the subject, I refer you to this CSM story today about Thailand’s media landscape)) but the red shirts seem to enjoy significant support among Bangkok people.

    To wit: I spent many hours attending red shirt protests and observing the red shirt caravans that paraded around town, and the onlookers overwhelmingly greeted the red demonstrators warmly. For example, see the image below, in which what appear to be everyday folks — not protesters who are wearing red attire — have come out to cheer the protesters on.

    This is notable because the red shirts are typically characterized as being farmers from the north and northeast who are at odds with the Bangkok middle class, business establishment, and bureaucracy. ((Yes, I realize that it’s possible that these pedestrians are also from the provinces.))

  • How will we remember the “blood protests“? The shocking use of protesters’ blood made international headlines, raising awareness of the red shirts’ cause abroad. But did the tactic alienate moderate Thais who are neither red nor yellow?

    People I have talked to have said that the reds’ use of blood was meant to appeal to their own base, and to seize the attention of those in power. So perhaps that’s all the red shirt leaders care about.

  • Can the red shirts move beyond Thaksin? Or do they want to? The exiled prime minister is reviled by many (non red shirt) Thais. Indeed, even some red shirts with whom I spoke told me that they were protesting not in support of Thaksin, but for democracy and what they call a level playing field.

    Still, Thaksin’s image could be seen on many, many signs and banners, such as the flag below. Thaksin is undoubtedly popular among many red shirts. But will the man prove to be a stumbling block to the red shirt movement?

  • Will dissolving the house solve anything? This is what the reds say they are trying to accomlish. But looking ahead, if new elections are held, and if the Thaksin-friendly Phua Thai party wins — as it likely would — what would happen then? Would Phua Thai appoint another proxy for Thaksin? If so, will the PAD — the yellow shirts — return?
  • That’s it for now. More on this soon, I’m sure.

    By the way, my five observations from last year — after the Songkran unrest ended — are similar to some of these thoughts. That’s testament, I suppose, to the intractability of the problem.

    Red shirt protesters march around Bangkok today

    Red shirt protesters will be touring Bangkok today, taking their protests from Rajadamnoen Rd. to various parts of the city. The Bangkok Post has the details. And there’s more from Reuters.

    In other news, this week’s Economist will not be distributed in Thailand due to an article about the Thai monarchy. Reuters explains. And VOA has a brief item, as well.

    You can follow the news on today’s protests by checking out the #redmarch hashtag on Twitter. You can also, of course, consult the Bangkok Post, the Nation, and Google News. (I will likely also be relaying some thoughts via Twitter.)

    Self promotion: Blood protest pics featured on BoingBoing

    Things have been relatively quiet here in Bangkok today. So I don’t have much new to share. But I did want to point out that the images I snapped of the bizarre blood protests here in Bangkok have been picked up by the uber-blog BoingBoing.

    Take a look at the (46 and counting) comments. The commentary there provides some insight into how the event may be perceived among a tech-savvy, young-ish, Western audience.

    Most of BoingBoing’s readers likely aren’t as familiar with the political issues driving the red shirts’ protests, so it’s interesting to see what they have to say about the demonstrations.

    Thailand blood protest: images from the prime minister’s house today

    Here are my images from today’s red shirt “blood protest” — is that an official term now? — at the prime minister’s house. You can find the details in this BBC story. And there’s more from GlobalPost and AP.

    I have a short video of the blood dousing incident itself, and will try to share that later. For now, here’re the pics…

    There’re a few more images in the full Flickr photoset.

    As ever, I’ll continue to monitor events. Follow me on Twitter for real-time updates.

    Images from today’s red shirt blood protest

    Here are some photos from the red shirts’ blood protest here in Bangkok today. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it.

    Here’re the details from CNN.com, NPR, and the WSJ.

    In brief: thousands of demonstrators began donating blood at about 8:30 a.m. today at the main rally site, near Rajadamnoen Rd. The blood was collected in large containers, and then in the late afternoon a large group of protesters marched — brandishing the blood — to Government House. There, several red shirt leaders poured blood near the entrance. (The WSJ story has a pic of that moment.)

    The symbolic act was meant, red shirt leaders said, to show Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that if he wants to enter the compound, he’ll have to step on Thai blood to do so.

    Warning: if you don’t like images of needles or blood — or, specifically, photos of large plastic bottles full of blood — avert your eyes now…

    Here’s the full photoset on Flickr.

    I’ll be covering the ongoing protests tomorrow (Wed. the 17th), as well. You can follow me on Twitter for updates.