Personal Observations on the “Red Shirt” Protests in Bangkok Thiland during May 2010: Episode IV, May 20, 2010
News from the frontlines:
Two days ago I travelled by bus to Bangkok to try to get some documents notarized and perhaps get a peek at the contending forces in the protest. When I arrived, I discovered that the US Consulate was closed and the Bangkok mass transit system shut down. So, that night I stayed at the house of a friend in one of the suburbs of the city. The next morning I returned to Jomtien Beach. As the bus left the Mo Chit bus terminal and travelled along the elevated highways leaving the city I could she the black smoke of the burning tire fires spreading over the central portion of the city and smell its acrid stench.
(For purposes of comparison, everyone should understand that the protest here in Bangkok occupies a smaller area than the Rodney King riots in LA; that the protestors are far less heavily armed than the LA rioters; and, that the property damage is substantially less here.)
In my younger days, I could not have resisted the urge to get a close up look at things, but at my age, comfort is more compelling than sightseeing. I, however, did not know that day was to be the day of the great push of the military against the protesters. Had I known, I am sure curiosity would have gotten the better of my current need for comfort.
I used to attend all the riots and confrontations I could get to. Like the general in “Apocalypse Now” who loved “the smell of Napalm in the morning,” I guess I must love the smell of fear when the protestors first catch sight of police advancing on them. While in Italy during the 1968 turmoil, I tried to attend every march and protest I could. It did not matter whether the protestors were communists, fascists or whatever (In Italy at that time is was difficult to tell who was who). Once I marched with the Communists. I could tell they were Communists because they began their march in front of the Lateran Palace in Rome were the Communists usually begin their marches. They also carried a lot of big red flags. Anyway I took my son Jason with me to that march, wanting to get him an early education of protest and its futility. I ended shielding him with my body from a hail of rocks thrown at the protesters and limped home long before we arrived at the protestors destination.
Another time, also in Rome, I attended a protest by the Fascists against something they believed the government was doing wrong (At this time, 1968, all protests had something to do with the Viet Nam war). The Fascists were much better dressed than the Communists. They were all young men (the commies had a few women and old people along) with slicked back hair in the style of the time, designer pants and fashionable shirts. They had gathered in Piazza Venezia, fittingly the location of the balcony from which Mussolini would harangue the crowds.
The police in jeeps formed a round-about whereby they drove around the plaza in ever-widening circles forcing the protestors from the plaza and on to the sidewalks. One of the protest leaders, a tall burley man very expensively dressed, refused to move from the street. Instead he held his ground and shouted whatever it is that Fascists would shout at the police. One of the jeeps suddenly peeled off from the round about and headed directly at him. As he ran, the jeep followed him across the sidewalk and up some steps where it caught him, ran over him, backed up over him again and returned to the anonymity of the round-about leaving him bloody and broken not five feet from where I was standing. Later that same evening, I had the great pleasure of saving myself from a police beating by shouting “Don’t hit me I’m a Canadian.”
I tell you all this in compensation for the fact that I avoided the action yesterday and returned home to my apartment so I have nothing exciting to report.
Today, the country is pretty much shut down, the banks are closed and what is more interesting all the atm machines are shut down, probably to try to mitigate any run on the baht. Also this morning they shut down the internet so I do not know when I will be able to post this. I assume the shut down of the internet was intended to make it more difficult for “Thaksin the omnipresent” to contact his followers. The Thai TV channels all show the same pictures of waving Thai flags and martial music.
It appears that the hard-line military is in firm control of the government. “Abisit the clueless,” the current prime minister is back into hiding and will be brought out by the military at an appropriate time. I would expect we would see several of the protest leaders who were taken into custody yesterday, “disappear.”
Meanwhile here in Jomtien Beach it remains as though everything happened in another country.