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A Week in Review: April 17-23, 2010

Has the red tide turned?

While the last seven days in Thailand have flitted between madness and tragedy, the week did at least end with a glimmer of hope.  Read our week in review here...

After consolidating their forces at the Rachprasong Intersection, the reds moved one of their frontiers towards the main business district of Silom on Monday. The government, who had now placed General Anupong in charge of handling the protests, responded by sending in armed soldiers and police to defend Bangkok’s commercial hub.

Although armed, the soldiers were in truth nothing more than fresh-faced boys in uniforms while the police were known to be suffering from split allegiances. Nevertheless, the tactic seemed to work in so much as the reds failed to enter Silom, deciding instead to erect a barricade of bamboo and tyres on “their” side of the Rama IV intersection across from Silom. In doing so, they were beginning to back themselves into a corner.

The presence of the red shirts so close to Silom created tensions amongst the business community. Office workers and local traders began gathering to vent their anger against the protesters, and the reds started to lose the support of many neutrals and sympathisers.

At the same time, a new “no colour” movement was beginning to hold increasingly large rallies in protest of the red shirts’ occupation of Bangkok and in support of the government. Numbers grew steadily over the week, from a few hundred to several thousand as opposition to the reds intensified.

Wednesday saw a large bomb blast kill one policeman and injure 62 in the southern province of Pattani as part of the long-standing separatist movement that has been overshadowed recently by events in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, the reds were beginning to fear a crackdown on their illegal and increasingly confrontational activities in Bangkok. A military train was hijacked by red shirt supporters in Khon Kaen who feared it was headed to provide reinforcements for operations in Bangkok. In actual fact, the train was headed for the restless South as part of regular troop rotations.

The train was finally released on Thursday on condition that red guards escort it to ensure it was, indeed, headed for Pattani and not Bangkok. It is difficult to grasp not only the utter contempt for law and order that Thaksin’s supporters display, but also the regularity with which the army and police fail to prevent them from doing so.

Also on Wednesday, a large silo containing millions of gallons of aviation fuel came under a grenade attack, which luckily failed to ignite the majority of the fuel due to the double skin of the silo. It was the latest in a series of terrorist attacks that are believed by many to be attributable to the reds and which have included attacks on power pylons bringing electricity to Bangkok and branches of the Bangkok Bank.

Back on Silom, the tensions were growing as larger crowds were gathering to show their annoyance at the red shirts camped across the street from them. The fear for safety was affecting business and on Wednesday night, the confrontations became violent when the two sides began throwing bottles at each other across the street.

As they began to see support turning away from them and rumours of a crackdown grew, the reds sent a delegation to the UN in Bangkok to request that peacekeepers be sent to protect them. Unsurprisingly, their request was turned down by the UN which was established to keep peace and to support just causes, and not to help fugitive criminals or their rampaging supporters.

Two old quotes have come back to haunt Thaksin this week: “Democracy is not my aim,” and, “The UN is not my father”.

On Thursday night, the very course of Thai history was changed. Starting at a little before 8pm, five M-79 grenades were launched from behind the red barricades into the crowded Silom area. Commuters on the sky-train, anti-red protesters, police and soldiers were all hit. Approximately 80 people were wounded and one woman tragically lost her life.

The street was thrown into a state of terror and feelings raged. Yet from the ashes of this despicable act and tragic loss, a glimmer of hope was born.

Sensing the tide of support turning against them, the reds began to take a softer stance. Their extremist leaders with their inflexible and unjustified demands were replaced by more moderate leaders who just might have the real interests of the people at heart.

On Friday, the reds agreed to move their front line back a token 100 metres, and after a visit by foreign diplomats, they appeared to be ready to negotiate their way out of this sorry mess.

While the deaths and injuries of April 10th appear to have achieved little, it seems that the bloodshed of April 22 may have actually been the catalyst for common sense to prevail.

While there is still a long way to go and a lot of concessions to be made by both sides, the atmosphere is changing for the positive for the first time in many weeks.

Paul Snowdon – April 24, 2010

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