4 years after coup, Thai Red-shirts subject to conversion

08:35, September 21, 2010      

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The capital of Thailand heated up again on Sunday four months after a blood-shedding dispersal to a chronic anti-government rally, as well as four years after a bloodless military coup that ousted the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Although the activities in Bangkok by the Red-shirts called it a day by 6 p.m. local time on Sunday free of violence or unrest, analysts believe the return of about 10,000 Red-shirts to the downtown Ratchaprasong area, where was the central stage for the April-to-May rally, has alarmed authorities that the anti- government movement could be regaining power.

Holding activities on Sept. 19 has been a routine for Red- shirts since the coup on that day four years ago toppled Thaksin, their leader de facto, but this year new importance was attached to the date: Four months ago on May 19, the troops dispersed the Red-shirts protesters by force. The Red-shirts leaders said the gathering meant to commemorate the 91 people, mostly Red-shirts protesters and security forces, who died in clashes between authorities and the anti-government group during the protests.

In the morning of Sunday a group of Red-shirts travelled to Pathum Wanaram temple near the Rachatprasong Intersection and laid red roses outside the pavilion, where six people, including both protesters and medical workers, were killed in the dispersal operation.

In the afternoon more and more people with red shirts joined them. They gathered at the Ratchaprasong area, chanting Red-shirts songs, tying red-ribbons and lighting candles to memorize those who died during their rally in April and May.

On Friday, Red-shirts across the country laid red roses in front of prisons nationwide in a bid to express best wishes to, and call for the release of, 252 Red-shirts including their leaders, who had been detained after the chronic rally ended.

A cavalcade of Red-shirts on Saturday also drove all the way to the northern province of Chiang Mai, a stronghold of them and Thaksin, to stage another rally on Sunday, with key Red-shirts members, including Jatuporn Promphan, delivering speeches.

Four points of demand was made by Red-shirts in Chiang Mai: release political prisoners in custody since the 2006 power seizure, reform the judiciary to introduce trial by jury, retool the economy as a welfare state and close the income-disparity gap and institute a price guarantee for farm products.

Those demands, along with Red-shirts' activities in Bangkok, fed analysts' perspective that there comes a movement, by a new generation of Red-shirts who are no longer influenced by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. New Red-shirts are fighting against injustice and government leaders who they think are biased towards a certain group of people.

In their latest major bid to topple the government, the Red- shirts protested in Bangkok from March 14 to May 19 that cost Thailand billions of U.S. dollars. The rally also left 88 killed and another 1,885 injured.

After the end of the rally, most of the major leaders of Red- shirts were detained, leaving thousands of Red-shirts across the country leaderless. And to prevent any new upheaval by the anti- government movement, the government has maintained its enforcement of the state of emergency in some provinces, including Bangkok, for five months.

"The group now is not led by key leaders such as Veera Muksikapong, Nattawut Saikau and Weng Tochirakarn since they have been detained for terrorism charges following military crackdown in May. Red-shirts are no longer under influence of Thaksin or his money. A structure of Red-shirts is likely to change," said Guo Jinsheng, a political and security analyst based in Bangkok.

Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, 42, "the only prominent Red-shirt who is not behind bars or on the run" as Bangkok Post puts it, seems to have been pushed more and more in the spotlight.

As founder of the Red Sunday branch of Red-shirts and one of the organizers of Sunday's event in Bangkok, Sombat was known as a dovish leader who is trying to stage peaceful, symbolic activities rather than to conflict with the government.

Sombat said his group, Red Sunday, will gather and hold symbolic activities every Sunday. The gathering aims to encourage Red-shirts not to give up and remind the public of people who were killed in the incident. The form of those activities vary from time to time, from picnic, aerobics dancing to bicycle riding.

Pitch Pongsawat, political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, sees Red Sunday's activities are more like an art or cultural politics than conventional hard-core street demonstration. This kind of movement, he thinks, is more accessible for the middle class than the grassroots.

The majority of Red Sunday supporters are middle class who are only anti-coup de tat and may not care much about Thaksin, Pitch said.

Source: Xinhua


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