sponsored by

Red Shirt protesters flood streets of Thai capital

Send a link to a friend

[April 20, 2010]  BANGKOK (AP) -- Tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters took over sections of Thailand's capital Tuesday, pelting police with eggs and dancing in the streets as they pushed through barricades to press the prime minister to call new elections.

Minor scuffles erupted around Bangkok, and a grenade exploded in the parking lot of the ruling Democrat Party's headquarters, injuring two police, party officials said. Dozens of similar unclaimed blasts have targeting government offices since protests started March 12.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva went on national television to say that the protests had broken the law but the government would continue its policy of tolerance to avoid violence.

"We are working to ensure that the country returns to normal as soon as possible," Abhisit said, adding that the government has requested arrest warrants for the protest leaders. "We are confident we can use the law to resolve the problem."

For several hours Tuesday, traffic was stopped along main boulevards in Bangkok's business district before the anti-government protesters retreated to the city's upscale shopping district, where they have been camped since Saturday. Malls there remained shuttered for a fourth day.

The protesters, many of them farmers from impoverished provincial areas who have characterized their movement as a class war against the Bangkok elite, have sworn not to let up their pressure until Abhisit steps down and calls new elections. Abhisit has offered to call elections by the year's end, but the protesters want quicker action.

The movement -- known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship -- contends that Abhisit came to power illegitimately in the years after ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was removed in a 2006 coup on corruption allegations. The group is made up largely of Thaksin supporters and pro-democracy activists who opposed the putsch. Political turmoil has increased in the years since the coup and deeply divided Thai society.

On Tuesday, the so-called Red Shirts, named for their signature attire, staged convoys through 11 main roads the administration has declared off-limits to them.

Thousands of soldiers and police in riot gear initially blocked protesters from joining the convoy. Demonstrators pushed against police lines and pelted the riot squads with eggs and plastic water bottles along the tree-lined Rajdamri Avenue in front of the barricaded Four Seasons and the Hyatt hotels, where a street lamp was ripped from the concrete. Tourists watched from inside.


The security gave way and a tide of red streamed through the streets and into the Silom Road financial center, with horns blaring and loudspeakers playing the folk music of rural Thailand.

"Today we marched to every corner of your 11 forbidden roads," a protest leader, Nattawut Saikua, shouted to a cheering crowd. "The rule of law is meaningless. You brought in soldiers? We got rid of them!"

Abhisit later said police backed down "to ensure that no confrontation would spiral out of control."

Several stations of Bangkok's Skytrain, the overhead rail service, were shut in the protest zone, but residents and tourists used its overhead vantage points to watch the action in the streets.

"We were going to see a movie," said Les Stanley, a 55-year-old Australian resident in Bangkok, as the gates closed at a Skytrain station. "Oh well, this is more interesting than a movie."

Business leaders have called for an end to the crisis, predicting even greater shocks to the economy and tourism if it persists.

A joint statement from three leading business associations estimated up to 900 million baht ($28 million) in losses in the shopping area over the past four days. Protesters have turned the shopping thoroughfare into a festive, litter-strewn campground.

[to top of second column]

Guests at the area's luxury hotels were checking out in large numbers.

"The hotel is pretty much emptying out," said Four Seasons general manager Rainer Stamper -- although roads were blocked by protesters and vehicle access was difficult.

Swiss tourist Helen Egli sat in the Four Seasons' nearly empty lobby lamenting the timing of her family's holiday in Thailand.

"We wanted to shop, but all the malls were closed," she said. "We chose this hotel because it's such a good, central location. Today, it's not such a good location."

Protesters say their rally in front of Bangkok's luxury shops is symbolic of their discontent with the elite, and they plan to stay.

"I'm tired but I'm not discouraged," said Jamorn, a 46-year-old nurse napping on a straw mat outside a Prada boutique. She asked her last name be withheld because she works at a government hospital. "I'm doing this for my children and grandchildren. I will sleep here until they dissolve Parliament."


Allies of Thaksin -- whose policies of cheap health care and low-interest village loans benefited the rural poor from which many of the protesters are drawn -- won the first elections after the coup but two resulting governments were forced out by court rulings. A parliamentary vote brought Abhisit's party to power in December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.

Abhisit must call new elections by the end of 2011, and many believe Thaksin's allies are likely to win -- which could spark protests by Thaksin's opponents.

Thaksin, a multimillionaire convicted in absentia on corruption-related charges, is a fugitive abroad and encourages the Red Shirts with frequent messages. His six years in office were riddled by accusations of nepotism and an erosion of democratic institutions.

[Associated Press; By JOCELYN GECKER]

Associated Press writer Kinan Suchaovanich contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor