As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to point out some stories on Saturday’s anti-government protest in Bangkok:
Embedded above and on Youtube here is a BBC report.
Bloomberg summed up:
Thai anti-government forces called off a rally yesterday aimed at toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because of a poor turnout after clashes left two police officers in critical condition.
“I quit,” Boonlert Kaewprasit, a retired general leading the demonstration, said in an interview after he called off the rally. “I told the truth. I needed a million people, but we were interrupted when police fired tear gas and blocked people from coming.”
Police said as many as 20,000 protesters attended the rally on a rainy day in Bangkok, short of the 500,000 that demonstration leaders had predicted. Boonlert had earlier threatened to storm Yingluck’s office complex after police used tear gas and detained about 100 people who attempted to breach a road block set up as part of crowd-control measures.
The AP reported:
Protesters calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down rallied in the heart of Bangkok on Saturday, clashing with police in the first major demonstration against the government since it came to power last year.
Organizers had spoken of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of supporters. But only around 10,000 turned up, and by dusk the leaders called the rally off.
Nevertheless, the tense gathering served as a reminder that the simmering political divisions unleashed after the nation’s 2006 army coup have not gone away. The coup toppled Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, triggering years of instability and mass-protests that have shaken Bangkok.
The WSJ said:
An antigovernment rally in Bangkok fizzled under tropical downpours Saturday, but the stench of tear gas wafting through the streets was a jarring reminder of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s struggle to escape the shadow of one of Asia’s most divisive politicians: her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup.
Map via The Nation.
The AP reports:
Thailand will deploy thousands of police officers and has invoked a special security law for an anti-government rally Saturday that is expected to be the largest since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took office in 2011 and that officials fear could turn violent.
Authorities expect tens of thousands of protesters, a turnout that would serve as a sharp reminder of the deep political divisions in the country despite two years of relative calm.
Yingluck on Friday accused the protesters of seeking to overthrow her elected government.
The demonstration is being organized by a royalist group calling itself “Pitak Siam” – or “Protect Thailand” – at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza, a public space near Parliament that has been used by protesters in the past.
While the group is a newcomer to Thailand’s protest scene, it is linked to the well-known “Yellow Shirt” protesters, whose rallies led to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s overthrow. The same movement later toppled a Thaksin-allied elected government after occupying and shutting down Bangkok’s two airports for a week in 2008.
Thai police warned of a plot to abduct Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as her cabinet approved using an internal security law to manage an anti- government rally scheduled for tomorrow.
“We have some worrisome intelligence that there may be violence when a lot of people gather,” National Police Chief Adul Sangsingkeo told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. “We are also very concerned about rumors about riots and the abduction of the prime minister.”
“Despite the noise, there appears to be little likelihood of any eruption, as the UDD red shirts have judiciously announced plans to give the protest a wide berth,” JP Morgan equity analyst Sriyan Pietersz wrote, adding that the political tension may damp overseas demand for Thai stocks.
The WSJ reports:
Amid the buildup to the protest, Thailand’s national police chief Gen. Adul Saensingkaew alleged that investigators had uncovered a plot to abduct Ms. Yingluck and hold her hostage, although analysts said the claim and the imposition of the security laws, are typical of the heated atmosphere around large-scale demonstrations in Thailand. Other unsubstantiated rumors abound, including conspiracy theories that Mr. Thaksin’s opponents plan to fire on the protesters in order to discredit Ms. Yingluck.
“Stories of ‘third-hand’ plans to attack protesters or plans for protesters to ‘arrest’ Prime Minister Yingluck are part and parcel of emotional political events in Bangkok, and are more political drama than an actual threat,” Bangkok-based security consultancy PSA Asia said in a note to clients Thursday.
And finally, for updated news, embedded below and online here is my Twitter list of Bangkok journalists.
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.
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.
“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.)
There are stories on this news today from The Bangkok Post:
The yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has warned the government that it will stage a mass rally if the reconciliation bills are not withdrawn when the parliament reconvenes on Aug 1.
…as well as The Nation:
The People’s Alliance for Democracy Tuesday called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranon to withdraw the contentious reconciliation bills to ease the political tensions.
“If the bills are still on the agenda for the next Parliament session convening on August 1, PAD will stage a rally,” PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said after a meeting of the group’s leaders.
Yellow Shirt activists of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) threatened Tuesday to rally unless the reconciliation bills currently before Parliament are withdrawn within seven days.
Reuters reported yesterday:
The elderly man dressed in homespun cotton looks like a kind-hearted grandfather from a rural Thai soap opera.
But it would be unwise to underestimate Chamlong Srimuang, a key figure in Thailand’s turbulent recent history, or the “yellow shirt” army he commands.
“We have successfully overthrown three prime ministers, which proves our track record is excellent,” says Chamlong, co-leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose yellow-clad members shut down Bangkok’s international airport in 2008.
“We have the ability to overthrow another government again if need be.”
That last claim might have rung hollow before June 1, when thousands of protesters from the long-dormant PAD blockaded the Thai parliament.
Worth a read.
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.
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.
แดงแน่นธันเดอร์โดม รอดู “จตุพร-ณัฐวุฒิ-วีระกานต์” กลับมาจัดรายการ “ความจริงวันนี้” ครบรอบครึ่งทศวรรษ twitter.com/LyNGinG/status…
— Lyng MakokiaT (@LyNGinG) June 2, 2012
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.
Just briefly, an update on the Thai parliament and the controversial reconciliation bills:
A vote was due to take place today, but the Parliament building was blocked this morning — and apparently continues to be blocked — by members of the PAD (yellow shirts) and the so-called multi-colored group.
The demonstrators’ intention is to stop a vote by preventing the ruling Pheu Thai lawmakers from entering the compound. It’s unclear when the vote will now occur.
Here are some photos I snapped from Thai TV a few hours ago.
Some MPs were forced to access the building via a hole in a fence:
And here are some photos of the PAD/multi-colored protesters:
— Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) June 1, 2012
You can follow me on Twitter for more.
There’s lots on tap here in Thailand over the next few days:
- Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Bangkok tonight on what will be her first international trip in 24 years. Reuters has a scene-setter. Suu Kyi will be speaking at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, which runs from tomorrow (Wed.) through Friday. Here’s the gathering’s program of events (PDF file).
- A verdict is due tomorrow (Wed.) in the lèse-majesté case against Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn. Al Jazeera has a video report on her case and the lèse-majesté issue. Chiranuch faces 20 years in jail.
- The yellow shirts‘ People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), according to The Bangkok Post, will rally tomorrow (Wed.) against the government’s reconciliation bill. The Post says: “The government is confident that this week’s World Economic Forum on East Asia will proceed smoothly despite the spectre of mass street protests…” (For the record, it is unclear how many supporters might turn out for this rally.)
- Also tomorrow (Wed.), a five-year ban on 111 ex-Thai Rak Thai politicians expires. Al Jazeera has a story. More on the subject in my next post.
- And finally, there’s this: The Bangkok Post says Thailand’s intellectual property department “will submit a letter to the US ambassador in Bangkok voicing its concern over pop princess Lady Gaga’s tweet about buying a fake Rolex in the city.”
The Bangkok Post today says:
The People’s Alliance for Democracy yesterday backed away from its threat to stage a major Bangkok rally against the charter rewrite in a move hailed by the government as a breakthrough in easing political tensions.
However, after a meeting of about 2,000 rowdy PAD supporters at Lumpini Park Hall, the group’s leaders said shelving the mass rally was dependent on two conditions. First, the constitution rewrite should not reduce the power of the King or change the structure of the monarchy, and second, it should not open the way for an amnesty for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his “cronies”.
The Nation, meanwhile, reports:
The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) will set up a committee to campaign for national reform instead of holding mass rallies to counter the Pheu Thai-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, according to PAD spokesman Panthep Pourpongpan.
Panthep said the group would launch protests if the government changes Article 112 of the Penal Code, amends the charter or any laws to waive penalties on Thaksin Shinawatra and his group, and when the time is right.
It was the first mass rally of the anti-Thaksin PAD, known as the yellow shirts, since Thaksin’s sister Yingluck became the prime minister. More than 3,000 people joined the rally, which lasted from 10am until late evening.
(All emphasis mine.)
(Image: The Nation.)