Bangkok protests: Black Songkran

Songkran, the Thai New Year celebrated from April 13 – 15, is supposed to be a joyous event in Thailand. But this year’s Songkran has been described as the “Black Songkran” in reference to the chaotic and violent confrontation between soldiers and anti-government protesters. Two protesters were killed and more than one hundred were injured during the clash in the streets of Bangkok.

Richard Barrow observes:

This has indeed been a black day for the people of Thailand. Literally, as the black smoke from burning tyres made it look like that the city was on fire. Today should have been a day of joy as people celebrated the start of the traditional Thai new year.

Who started the violence? There are videos, pictures, and anecdotes showing that both sides started the mayhem. For complete listing of pictures and videos of the Red Shirt protesters, check out The Red Shirt Report. Journalist Nirmal Ghosh provides a timeline of the turmoil in Bangkok over the past two days.

The Red Shirts want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign because they believe he acquired power through illegal means. Many of them are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Red Shirts were accused of using urban-style terrorism tactics to control the streets of Bangkok. They burned buses and threw Molotov cocktails against soldiers. On the other hand, soldiers were criticized for open firing against protesters who were unarmed.

Watch these three videos from YouTube showing how protesters took control of tanks which were deployed when a State of Emergency was declared by the government

Meanwhile, the video below is cited by the critics of the Red Shirts as proof that the latter were the first to instigate violence

Exiled scholar Ji Giles Ungpakorn emphasizes that “no government anywhere in the world has the right to use troops to gun down protestors in the streets.” He also adds that the crisis in Thailand is a reflection of the “growing class war” in Thai society:

…for the fourth time in forty years, troops have opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in bangkok. each time the aim has been the same: to protect the interests of the conservative elites who have run thailand for the past 70 years.

what we have been seeing in thailand since late 2005, is a growing class war between the poor and the old elites

As expected, the Yellow Shirts interprets the actions of their rivals, the Red Shirts, as part of a sinister plot:

After torpedoing the Asean Summit in Pattaya, the red-shirt anti-government protesters stage urban-style terrorism around key points in Bangkok so that Abhisit is forced to declare a state of emergency. Then the military has to be brought in to quash the red-shirt protesters. When the military suppresses the protests, there will be bloodshed and the situation will spill out of control, creating a state of anarchy.

The group was referring to the Asian Summit which was cancelled after the Red Shirts were able to forcibly enter the summit venue.

Nganadeeleg criticizes both sides: the government and the Red Shirts:

Neither side seems to be able to admit any wrong doing by participants on their own side, and always blame the other side.

To date I have seen no real sign of reasonableness or compromise from either side, both still going for winner take all after more than 3 years of conflict.

It's very frustrating to this observer (who can sympathize with the genuine grievances of both sides).

Despite the deadly clash between the rallyists and soldiers, many parts of Bangkok remained peaceful. Bangkok Pastor observes:

I'm not saying there aren't a lot of “red shirts” and I'm not saying they aren't causing huge disruptions and won't ultimately cause a change of government. But I am saying that there aren't any “red shirts”, soldiers or tanks in my neighborhood. If I wasn't watching the news – I wouldn't know what was going on.

Twitter is a good and reliable source of information about the ongoing protests in Thailand. Via Twitter, the reactions of Bangkok residents on the political crisis.

DanDepew: Red Shirt camps being guarded by “security” w/lead pipes. Burnt buses still blocking intersections. New group “Black Shirts” siding w/troops
pongsathorn: Very sad, Red Shirts shot one local people death a hour ago.
tuangd: damn the protesters ‘red shirts’ you are destroying our country
iamopen: A car is burning in Victory Monument, I see the smoke from my window. The red shirts are moving towards Phya Thai
JediPimmy: Red shirts are Barbarous and disgusting. Such a humiliation of Thailand !!

Thumbnail image used from the Flickr account of candice and jarrett


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