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Thailand: The Red Shirts are coming!

Members of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the Red Shirts, are scheduled to start a protest march in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 12. Hundreds of thousands of Red Shirts are expected to assemble during the weekend march, which will culminate at Sanam Luang on 14 March. The protesters want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve the Parliament.

A google map of the major protest sites in Bangkok.


View Bangkok Dangerous – Red Shirts Rally March 2010 in a larger map

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.

The Red Shirts view the incumbent Prime Minister as being illegitimate and undemocratic. They want to replace the “ammat (elite) system” with a truly democratic and pro-people government.

The weekend rally is seen as the biggest threat to the troubled administration of Abhisit. To prevent “third party elements” from causing trouble, the government has invoked the Internal Security Act that puts the army in charge. The ISA is to be enforced from 11 to 23 March for all of Bangkok and nearby districts. Army officers are told to carry only shields and batons. About 50,000 to 100,000 military and police forces will be deployed in the capital city. Another 46,000 “disaster prevention volunteers” are on standby.

To gather sympathy from Bangkok residents, the Red Shirts sent this email message

“A Message to the Good People of Bangkok and International Communities.”

“On Friday the 12th of March, a campaign aimed at ending the age of the Thai military dictatorship and restoring freedom, democracy and justice to our beautiful nation will begin. At this very moment, hundreds of thousands of people from all across our country not already in Bangkok are preparing to make their way to the capital, in defiance of a regime that has proven its willingness to commit violence and strip away the human rights of those who speak against it.”

“We are convinced that for the coming struggle we need no guns, bullets or blades, but only solidarity and sincerity in our hearts. We have learned from the mistakes of the past, and will allow no repeat of them. We will stand together, we will remain vigilant against troublemakers, and we will take care to ensure that no foreigner is harmed or intimidated. We will stare defiantly down the barrels of the guns of the soldiers who remain loyal to the men who wish us to remain silent and submissive, and we will embrace with open arms those who wish to put down their weapons and join us.”

Despite the assurance of Red Shirts that they will only employ non-violent methods, many people are still worried that violence may erupt especially after viewing this video clip taken last January which showed a Red Shirt leader vowing to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”

พี่น้องนัดกันคราวหน้า ถ้ารู้ว่าเขาจะปราบปราม ไม่ต้องเตรียมอะไรมาก มาด้วยกัน ขวดแก้วคนละใบ มาเติมน้ำมันเอาข้างหน้าบรรจุให้ได้ 75 ซีซีคือหนึ่งลิตร ถ้าเรามาหนึ่งล้านคนในกรุงเทพมหานครมีน้ำมันหนึ่งล้านลิตร รับรองว่ากทมเป็น ทะเลเพลิงอย่างแน่นอน การสู้ของคนเสื้อแดงแบบง่ายๆอย่างนี้ บอกให้ทหารได้รับทราบ บอกให้ทหารสุนัขรับใช้อมาตย์ได้รู้ว่า ถ้าคุณทำร้ายคนเสื้อแดงแม้เลือดหยดแต่หยดเดียว นั่นหมายความว่ากรุงเทพฯ จะเป็นทะเลเพลิงทันที

“Fellow Thais, for the next time [we protest], if you know that we will crackdown, there is no need to prepare a lot. Just bring one bottle each. Then fill it with oil so it is filled to 75cc-1 litre. If there are one million of us in Bangkok, there will be one million litres. I guarantee you that Bangkok will be a sea of fire for sure. The way the red shirts will fight back/respond is simple like this. We need to tell the military, tell the military dogs who are serving the aristocrats so that know that if you injure the red shirts with just one drop of blood then Bangkok will be a sea of fire.”

Another problem of the Red Shirts is the rumored plan of the government to close the gas stations in the country to prevent or delay rallyists from travelling to Bangkok. TV reports claim that railway and bus stations are under heavy security. Roadblocks have been set-up. Security checkpoints are now monitoring the activities of Red Shirts.

A grand showdown is expected between the Red Shirts and government forces this weekend. There is now heightened tension and panic in the city. Bloggers share their views and observations:

Residents are withdrawing money from the banks. Some are buying gold bars. Thanong reports:

My friend has just called in to report that she is in a Yaowarat gold shop buying some gold bars — just in case. “I am buying a gold bar for myself and my sister. If you want one, just send me the cash via the ATM now. I'll get one for you,” she said.
No, thank you.

Since Bangkok is a famous tourist destination, the weekend rally can be explained to foreign guests as a political “reality show”

Bangkok is now living under an atmosphere of fear. My former staff now working in the Silom area called in to ask for consultation. How should she told her boss who would be welcoming the foreign guests staying at the Centara Grand Hotel over the weekend.
I told her to keep it cool. “Just stay in the hotel room with a pair of binoculars and watch the reality show,” I said.
She was not impressed.

Parties, receptions, and trips have been postponed because of the planned rally. From absolutelybangkok.com:

Can’t count the cancellations of events for this weekend anymore. Everyone’s postponing. Parties, receptions, trips, they have to wait. The Thai capital is in the grip of the red shirts without them yet being here. Parts of Bangkok will be deserted, others rather not.

The red protest is no longer a protest. It’s a mobilization of hope for some, victory seems near, of utter discomfort for others. Maybe we have never seen as many reds united, but they’re not here to make new friends

Red Shirts protest. Photo from the Flickr page of adaptorplug

Red Shirts protest. Photo from the Flickr page of adaptorplug

But Thai Politics does not think that the Red Shirts are ready to take over the leadership of the country

Well, they can win the first few skirmishes with the army, especially if they engage them in a multiple locations and fully utilize their numerical advantage, but they can’t hold Bangkok for any period of time, they don’t have resources for that and they won’t have any moral support among the occupied Bangkokians, too.

That’s the worst scenario, the best, as I mentioned, is if the government finds a way to discourage pickup drivers from coming. Reds then can rally on foot, express their opinions and outrage, whatever, time for street revolutions have passed and they’ve got a lot of work to do to go mainstream, they are just not ready to take over the country.

Political Prisoners in Thailand monitors news reports about the Red Shirts and makes this important conclusion

Readers should know that all reporting now is heavily biased and many stories are clearly manufactured or reporting manufactured claims. If anyone says they know what is going to happen over the next few days, they are probably not worth listening to. This is a work in progress for the royalist government and their opponents.

Why did the Red Shirts choose to mobilize their members this weekend? Because this week coincides with the end of the high school term. “With the summer holidays beginning and the children not having to go to school, the parents can join the protest with less worry.”

A website identifies the 33 dangerous spots during the “Bloody March”, and the 7 dangerous spots if UDD members are going to block the trafic in Bangkok.

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