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10 Bangkok Rallies That Almost Toppled the Government

A temporary truce between anti-government protesters and government forces in Thailand has somewhat eased the political tension in the country.

More than 100,000 protesters have stormed the streets of Bangkok in the past two weeks demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra whom they accused of being a mere puppet of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 but his party has remained victorious in the polls. He is in exile after being found guilty of plunder by a local court.

But the political crisis is far from over since the pause in fighting was only made in deference to King Bhumibol Adulyadej who is celebrating his birthday on December 5. The King is the most revered figure in Thailand.

One way to analyze how the current crisis will unfold is to review how various political forces reacted in the past when similar provocative rallies also shook the nation. In particular, the massive rallies in 2008 and 2010 can shed light as to why Thailand’s major political parties have failed to peacefully resolve their differences.

These rallies didn’t directly cause the removal of the elected government but they immensely contributed in eroding the legitimacy of the national leadership.

1. August 2008. Yellow Shirts occupied the Government House. In 2008 the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or Yellow Shirts conducted daring street actions for several months to force the removal of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej whom they accused of being a proxy of Thaksin. PAD adopted the color yellow as their protest color in honor of the King.

PAD was able to occupy the Government House on August. Protests continued until September when the group was able to disrupt the railway operations and Phuket airport.

Yellow Shirts occupying the Government House. Photo by Craig Martell, Copyright @Demotix (8/30/2008)

Yellow Shirts occupying the Government House. Photo by Craig Martell, Copyright @Demotix (8/30/2008)

2. November 24, 2008. Yellow Shirts surrounded the Parliament building. PAD upped the ante on November when they were able to surround the Parliament building.

3. November 25, 2008. Yellow Shirts occupied two major airports in Bangkok. PAD paralyzed air travel in the country by occupying Bangkok’s two major airports. PAD withdrew from the airports after eight days when the country’s top court ordered the dissolution of the ruling party which forced the prime minister to step down. Further, the court disqualified allies of Thaksin from running for public office again. This video below shows protesters occupying Suvarnabuhmi international airport in Bangkok:

4. December 2008. Rise of the Red Shirts. The victory of PAD led to the rise of the Red Shirts who adopted the color red just to differentiate themselves from the Yellow Shirts. The Red Shirts were neither leftists nor anti-royalists but many of them were supporters of Thaksin. They were vigorously opposed to the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva whom they denounced as illegitimate.

5. April 2009 Black Songkran. Songkran, the Thai New Year became ‘Black Songkran’ in reference to the chaotic and violent confrontation between soldiers and anti-government protesters. The Red Shirts adopted the tactics of their yellow counterparts in order to undermine the administration. They often mobilized in the streets in 2009 to call for a new round of elections. This video shows Red Shirts taking control of a tank which was deployed when a State of Emergency was declared by the government:

6. March 2010 Blood protest. Red Shirts have mobilized more than 100,000 in the streets. And the protest became ‘bloody’ when protesters threw blood at government buildings. The following video clip shows a big assembly of Red Shirts:

7. April 2010 Crackdown of protest blockade. The Red Shirts were able to occupy many parts of Bangkok. They established protest camps in the city as they pushed for the resignation of Abhisit. After two months of protesting in the streets, they were forced to disperse when soldiers were deployed to disband the protest barricades. Tony Joh documented the violent clash between protesters and soldiers at Phan Fa bridge.

8. May 2010 Final Assault operation of the military against protest camp. Violence escalated on May 19 during the final assault operation of the military which led to intense street battles, riots, and looting. The retreating protesters also burned several buildings in the city. Scored were killed and more than 400 were injured during the clashes. Abhisit and some military officials were subsequently charged with murder for ordering the protest crackdown.

Red Shirt protest barricade. Photo from @potapotypoter

Red Shirt protest barricade. Photo from @potapotypoter

9. November 2013 Amnesty Bill protest. Abhisit’s party eventually lost in the parliamentary elections in 2011 and he was replaced by Yingluck Shinawatra. She recently supported an Amnesty Bill which critics believe would ‘whitewash’ the crimes of her brother. The senate rejected the measure but it didn’t stop opposition forces from mounting big rallies in the capital last month.

Live reporting….from Siam. Mobs everywhere. Advice to avoid those areas.

10. December 2013 ‘Anti-Thaksin’ protests. Several government buildings were occupied by protesters who have denounced the continuing influence of Thaksin in the Yingluck administration. They wanted Yingluck to step down and set-up a People’s Council. This video shows the size of rally in Bangkok last November 24, the biggest anti-government rally so far.

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