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Thailand: ‘Reds’ vow a bigger rally today

Categories: East Asia, Thailand, Breaking News, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Politics, Protest

March 11: The Red Shirts are coming! [1]
March 13: Calm before the storm? [2]

The anti-government Red Shirts in Thailand are giving Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva until 12 noon today [3] to dissolve the parliament and call for a new round of elections. The Red Shirts issued this ultimatum yesterday in central Bangkok as they vow to gather more people around the city if Abhisit won’t act on their demands.

Despite the summer heat, at least a hundred thousand people marched in the streets of Bangkok yesterday. Based on news reports, the “rural hordes” entered the capital [4] via 13,385 pick-ups, 3,385 cars, 36 trucks, 60 buses, 17 e-tan farm trucks, 137 motorcycles, 115 vans and three train journeys. Many protesters also travelled by boats [5]. Organizers claim they will be able to reach the “million-man” target in the next few days.

Many Red Shirts are supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra but not all of them are fans of the fugitive leader who was recently found guilty by the court of corruption charges. Red Shirts belong to the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) which wants the “military-backed” Abhisit regime replaced with a new democratic government.

Abhisit assured the public that his government won’t use unnecessary force [6] in handling the rallies. But blogger Life in Bangkok notes that security forces [7] were increased in the capital

“…an additional nine companies of security personnel (were) deployed, with the number of police and military units near the rally site rising to 42 companies… I wonder how long until the security apparatus outnumber the protesters, … ? More troops were also sent to reinforce the 11 Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen where the government has set up a peacekeeping and monitoring command center

The Bangkok Bugle attended [8] the March 14 rally:

I'm home after spending a couple of hours walking up and down Rajadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok where most the red-shirt anti-government protesters are gathering. It's hard to estimate just how many people, but for certain the numbers are growing by the hour. Policing is light and the mood of the protesters, at least when I was there, was jovial although seemingly determined.

A reader of Bangkok Pundit observed that the Red Shirt protesters were warmly welcomed [9] by many Bangkok residents

To me, the most interesting thing to observe were the ordinary Thais — vendors, people coming out of their shops, and people streaming from smaller sub-sois to watch — along the street who were not wearing red, but were cheering as well, and as the convoy of thousands finished the protest and started driving along Sukhumvit, these same un-red-shirted people waved and called out to the departing Reds. Also, a surprising number of people driving private cars, honked their horns and waved and smiled at the Reds as they drove past. Many men and women not wearing who had just come out to the street to watch were waving whatever red things they could find as the Reds departed: red shopping bags, faded Coke signs, I even saw a red sock!

Twitter reactions and reports:

photo_journ [10]: Number of redshort supporters & ordinary Thais lining da river is astounding. HUGE numbers. Small boats & jetski's joining
newley [11]: Very difficult to navigate area in front of stage. Crowded. Took me 10 minutes to go less than 100 meter
tulsathit [12]: Thaksin said he never intended to overthrow monarchy. “Only the ammart (royal advisers) that I want to overthrow”.
bangkokpundit [13]: RT @tri26: Majority of protesters are NOT poor farmers but are middle class, @thaicam concurs
Saksith [14]: RT @TAN_Network: Thammasat University cancels classes at Ta Phrachan campus Mar 15-16 due to red shirt protests
_Willowtree_ [15]: Ch 3 saying that the Red shirt medic group RSR found numbers of Rally goers are sick with food poisoning

The tweet which mentioned that majority of protesters belong to the middle class disproves the news stereotype that protesters were mainly from the rural population.

Red Shirt rally. Photo by Newley [16]

Red Shirt rally. Photo by Newley

Red Shirts parade. Photo by Newley [17]

Red Shirts parade. Photo by Newley

Political Prisoners in Thailand is disappointed with how the local mainstream media [18] is reporting the rallies:

PPT doubts that many of Bangkok’s population will ever know what is being said at the rally apart from the call for the government to call an election. The media are doing a remarkably poor job of reporting what is happening, even to the point of hardly showing the crowds assembled and, as far as we can tell, no attempt to present the views of those in the huge crowd. Most of this crowd present a profile that is very different from the “average Bangkokian.” That might seem a slightly odd statement, but there is a clear difference. It is not so much an ethnic difference, although that’s there; and it is not simplistic rich vs. poor; it is, we suspect, basically a class difference. Bangkok is very quiet outside the rally area. They’ll only be getting pro-government views from television and will never hear the issues involved, let alone understand them.

Thaksin, who described himself as a symbol of democracy and a leader respected by many Red Shirts, addressed the crowd through a phone-in speech [19]. Saiyasombut translates [20] an exceprt of the speech:

“My dear people, there have been news spread that I’m supposed to be in Cambodia. I’m in Europe! I’m here to meet my children, who were attending a trade show in Germany so we’re going to meet in Europe. It is not true that I would be in Cambodia, because I don’t want tarnish the relationships between the two countries. What is for granted is that wherever I am, I can call in. Wherever I am I can video-link to you. (…) So stop with that lie!”

Gavin Gough noticed that the rally had a “feel of a holiday carnival [21]

Whilst yesterday’s protests had the feel of a holiday carnival, there was a subtle shift in the mood overnight. Red Shirt organisers and their armed guards have a look of steely determination behind their smiles and the on-stage rhetoric was dialled up several notches this afternoon. Whatever happens, Day Three promises to give the first indications of which way the political wind is going to blow.

There Live [22] and Thailand Voice [23] gathers the most relevant blog posts and twitter reactions related to the weekend Red Shirt rallies. Photos of the rallies are available on Pantip [24], Prachatai [25], Media140 [26], Cod has been here [27], and another one from Prachatai [28].