Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All paths now officially lead to the palace

Red shirt protesters arriving in Bangkok carrying a portrait of the king. March 14, 2010. 

The biggest threat to the royalty has always been the royalists.

And despite the dangers of dragging the palace into the political fray for their benefit, Abhisit and his backers have done exactly that.

From the Bangkok Post:

The Centre for the Resolution to Emergency Situations claims to have uncovered a plot to overthrow the monarchy.

The CRES said the network behind the plot included key leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, members of the Puea Thai Party and former banned politicians, academics and hosts of community radio programmes.

The prime minister and the armed forces have long suspected the UDD rally had a higher purpose than just forcing a dissolution of the House of Representatives. 

I was still hoping, despite indications to the contrary, that Thailand's political troubles would find some common ground and be able to resolve the conflict before it took another dangerous escalation.

But now that the wounded government has taken this desperate step, they are taking Thailand on a path towards civil war. 

Long live the king. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Scenes from Silom April 22

Blood stained stairs on Silom where one of the M79 grenades landed, the sticker reads: "we love the king"

Briefly, as I am on the way to Silom again tonight, I am posting some images from last night's violence on Silom road.

I arrived after the M79 grenades had exploded. For comments on such violence and the general state of ungovernability in Thailand see M79's and Ungovernability.

When I arrived, mob violence by PAD (yellow shirts, multicolored shirts, or whatever name they are using today) was in full swing and they were again setting upon people they suspected were reds.

Yet violence mostly raged between the PAD and the red frontline. Both sides fought spiritedly and the sound of breaking bottles, breaking windows, vulgar insults, and thousands of metal pieces of debris ricocheting off walls, cars, and signs was non-stop.  

Police were doing nothing.

At one point, some police tried to clear the PAD but were violently rebuffed by the mob.

PAD members complained bitterly that the police were not protecting them from the reds. This was also in relation to the M79 attacks which had caused the PAD to scream and hiss at the police while cheering when military troops moved through the lines.

Things further degenerated with skirmishes raging between the PAD and the reds and between the PAD and the police.

While police tried to hold their lines, the PAD pelted them with bottles and rocks launched from slingshots.

The whole time, rocks and other metal objects were being launched at the PAD from the red's fortified barrier. Reds also launch a number of fireworks at the PAD and there were many loud explosions that were likely fireworks.

While tensions were high, a moment of levity came when a PAD member with a slingshot ran up to a couple of journalists taking shelter behind a firetruck, and while scanning the ground, ask if anyone had a flashlight to help him find rocks or other ammunition for his slingshot. We all laughed, wished him luck, but we would be somewhat compromised to help in the fray.

At about 11:40 pm, the police were either ordered to clear the PAD or had simply had enough of being at the receiving end of the hostility.

Police formed a line at the end of Silom road, started thumbing their truncheons against their shields, and then began moving into the PAD.

The PAD threw rocks, bottles, sticks, metal barriers, and tried to drag razor wire in front of the police as they retreated down the street. One guy even swung a large fire extinguisher at the police (see bellow).

Once under the Sala Deang BTS station, the PAD were trapped by lines of military couched bellow their riot shields.

It was chaos as they funneled into the few spaces between troops as they were running in an open sprint with the cops right behind.

When the police caught them it was violent retribution. Those that struggled were beaten.

It was another ugly night of violence on Silom road and likely not the last.

Note the small boy firing the sling shot, this is the second night he has been there. He is about 12 years old. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yellow lynch mob

All photos taken last night (April 21) at the intersection of Silom road and Rama 4. 

Clashes erupted between yellows and reds on Silom road last night.

The red shirts were set up behind their formidable tire and bamboo wall on one side and riot control police were stationed on the opposite side. Also facing the red shirt frontline was the military who were perched up in the pedestrian walkway with a large number of well armed troops with M16s trained on the reds.

Amongst the police, the so-called "multicolored" protesters had gathered. But make no mistake, they are yellow shirts or People's Alliance for Democracy simply re-branded.

Their name may change, but what remains the same is their violence, anger, and intolerance.

The yellow mob (and i do mean to use the word mob rather than protesters) had worked themselves up into a frothing anger while their leaders were exchanging taunts over loudspeakers with the opposing red camp.

Pitched battles broke out in which both reds and yellows threw bottles and traded sling-shot rounds. Ball bearings, marbles, and other metal objects caused a number of injuries. I was hit in the forehead by a piece of metal while walk back towards the yellow shirts but it could just as well have been a ricochet fired by the reds.   

Then the situation became more violent and truly ugly.

The yellows began attacking people near them they suspected of being red shirts. An older motorcycle taxi driver, a young man claiming to be a off-duty soldier, a Thai journalist caught carrying a UDD membership card, and a somewhat ignorant Western tourist who was on the way the the Sala Deang BTS station.

It was true mob violence with no rationale.

The yellows punched, kicked, spit, scratched, and broke bottles over their victims heads.

They also threatened the press who were filming their violence. They accused us of not filming the 'right' violence and aggressively tried to tell us to stop filming them and go to the other side to film the reds.

At one point, the lynch mob stormed the police barrier at the swank Dusit Thani Hotel and tried to get inside. They were demanding the police handover a victim the police had previously saved.

While the police and military were unresponsive to the point of being implicit, they did help those being lynched and this did prevent anyone from being killed.

Now that yellows and reds are fighting, it would be logical to assume that more clashes and mob violence will take place on Bangkok's streets in the coming days.

Further bloodshed must be avoided at all costs

A rather apt and surprisingly assertive statement from the AHRC:

April 21, 2010
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
THAILAND: URGENT--Further bloodshed must be avoided at all costs

This evening, April 21, there are many disturbing reports of a possible new attack to disperse anti-government protestors that have continued to assemble in Bangkok, calling for the unelected premier, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to step down and for new elections to be held. There are grave and legitimate fears that further violence is imminent and that more lives will be lost. On April 10, at least 25 people died and hundreds were injured when the army moved on assembled demonstrators. Although the government denied that the military on that occasion used live ammunition, all evidence is to the contrary.

The government of Thailand should by now be aware that the use of soldiers to dislodge these demonstrators is totally counterproductive. Not only has it failed in its basic objective, but it has also again dragged the country's reputation to new lows, ironically, just as its diplomats are bidding for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The government must know that it will face worldwide opprobrium if security personnel again attack and kill demonstrators.

But beyond the condemnation and outrage at home and abroad, it must also recognize that what is at stake in Thailand today is not the stability of a district or accessibility of a street, but the future of a society.

In dealing with the demonstrators, the government must bear in mind that it alone has the capacity to completely destroy respect for state institutions through rash and disorganised responses. Although others can damage these institutions, it is the persons responsible for their upkeep who can cause truly great and lasting damage. The deep loss in public respect for state institutions over recent years, especially loss of confidence in the judiciary, is primarily a consequence not of public actions but of the wrongheaded and ill-intended acts of successive administrations. Any resort to violence now will only further diminish the standing of key state agencies, causing further setbacks to the decades-long project to build rational institutions for a humane and intelligent society.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urgently reminds the government of Thailand of the special responsibility that it has to respond carefully to a complicated situation. The government cannot absolve itself of this obligation. Nor do the exigencies of the present circumstances make it less pressing; on the contrary, they make it all the more important. Further bloodshed must be avoided at all costs. The confusion and tragedy of recent days must not be turned into catastrophe. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

4:30 Am on Silom

Rumors were rampant that a military crackdown against the red shirts was due at 4am.

Just after 4, troops rolled down Silom and took up position on the pedestrian bridge aiming their rifles at protesters.

Thousands of troops massed behind them on Silom road and stretched razor wire across the sidewalks...

And then it was over. Nothing happened.

By 7 am the morning office crowds were nervously speedwalking past the troops.

The crackdown has yet to happen.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Red Revolution

*Rough cut in very low-resolution

Red Revolution is an on-the-ground journey into the so-called “red-shirt” protest movement that has been locked in an increasingly violent political struggle against Thailand’s government. This 22-minute documentary joins the protesters as they march into Bangkok to demand democracy and equality from the country’s traditional ruling elites whom the protesters claim are holding back their democratic rights and have created gross economic and judicial inequalities.

Told through the first-person narrative of a photographer who has been documenting their struggle, the documentary witnesses their protest as it evolves from a non-violent movement into a series of bloody street battles leaving hundreds injured and 25 dead. Ultimately, the story reveals how the protesters have begun a dangerous struggle for Thailand's democratic future and are bringing the country to the brink of revolution.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Live rounds fired

Military pointing shotgun as protesters push against troops. April 10 on Makawan Bridge.

Empowered by massive media censorship, Abhisit’s government has been spreading the bold lie that troops were not shooting live rounds and trying to paint the troops as innocent victims of rampaging red shirt protesters. 

This lie has been told by former-academic-turned-government-revisionist, Panitan Wattanayagorn and by
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban who said: "he had issued orders for soldiers to be equipped only with shields, batons and tear gas. "They were unarmed, so some of them were killed," he said.

And this lie is being perpetuated by Thailand’s controlled and complicit media. 

As a witness to the carnage on the streets in Bangkok on Saturday, it is simply staggering to hear the government making such bold lies. 

Thousands of rounds of live ammunition were littering the streets. While I collected a few spent shells that rolled up to my feet still hot from being fired, a number of protesters had collected live rounds. Here is a photo of a protester holding one of them: 

All are marked with the RTA – Royal Thai Army – acronym.

That the troops were firing overhead for the majority of the time is certain. The only photographs I have of troops aiming at protesters are with shotguns (above). I collected one spent shotgun shell – contents unknown obviously – and one large rubber bullet that is the circumference of a shotgun shell.

While the spent and live shells are evidence of how bold the distortion of facts is by the government, the video evidence of troops firing and the violent injuries that killed protesters is indisputable.

This footage from France 24 is clear.

What is also clear is that 16 protesters died and many of those died from violent injuries consistent with bullet wounds.

If Thailand had a proper, free media, they should expose the lies that their government is telling them. 


A red shirt protester showing allegiance to the king, a couple of minutes before major clashes on Makawan Bridge on April 10th. 

A provocative article on Prachatai called Abhisit’s last Card: Ultra-Royalism?

"Now that Abhisit is hemorrhaging most if not all of his legitimacy, could he be desperate and callous enough to accuse the red-shirt leadership and the movement of being an anti-monarchist movement?"

Much of the political turmoil in Thailand is drawn in zero-sum terms and if Abhisit and his backers are feeling that they are about to lose it is possible that those who pretend to be protecting the monarchy will be the very ones who drag the monarchy into the center stage of the fray.

It has been said before, but worth repeating, the royalists are truly the biggest threat to royalty in Thailand.

Update 12:20 am:
Then again, maybe the royalty are a threat to themselves.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

April 10, Bangkok

The photos here are in the same order as I shot them from about 10am to 2am. Starts with the clash on 
Makkawan Bridge.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reds triumphant

Reds were triumphant in Ratchaprasong this evening with possibly the largest turnout so far. It is hard to have perspective on actual numbers but around 100,000 is likely.

Notably, its Bangkok residents which are surging to the protests challenging the stereotype that its only the rural and relatively poor protesting.  

While rumors were rampant that a crack down was immanent, it is really hard to see how the reds will be subdued now.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Seh Deang at Ratchaprasop

Seh Deang at 5 AM in Ratchprasong milling about the protesters like a movie star.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Photo of the Day: Troops retreat from Ratchaprasong

It was all smiles and handshaking as security forces retreated from Ratchaprasong. Apparently was tense in the morning, but as I arrived at about 10:30 or 11, it was simply triumphant for the reds. The protesters near Ratchadamri formed a line around retreating troop (above) as they walked towards Lumpini Park. One of protesters was even hand-feeding candies to the troops (see photo below).

The only tense moments I witnessed were on Silom and near the seized military jeep and fire trucks. On Silom, as the reds arrived and traffic was halted, some motorists were furious and it seemed a couple were close to swerving into the protesters. At the site of the seized military jeep and fire trucks, including one mounted with the LRAD, there was some tension. The military official negotiating the release of the vehicles looked nervous and, uncharacteristically, one of the red shirt guards tried to stop me from photographing.