Thousands of supporters of Thailand’s Red Shirt movement (the popular name for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) once again turned Bangkok’s busy Ratchaprasong Intersection into a sea of red on November 19.
Protesters turned out in their thousands to mark six months since the military attacked and dispersed a mass protest camp that occupied the area in April and May. More than 90 people were killed and thousands injured. Hundreds of protesters are still imprisoned.
This was the second peaceful mass protest to fill Ratchaprasong since the crackdown. The turnout at the first mass protest on September 19, was estimated at between 10,000-12,000 — a show of defiance against the emergency decree still in force in Bangkok and some provinces. The size of the September 19 turnout caught both the rally organisers and the authorities by surprise.
Red Shirts held several build-up actions around the country in the lead-up to November 19. These included mass bike rides of red-shirted supporters in several cities and towns.
On November 14, about 1500 Red Shirt supporters rallied in front of the Rama VI statue Bangkok’s Lumpini Park to mark the assassination of rebel general Khattiya Sawatdipho (popularly known as Seh Daeng) six months ago.
Khattiya, who supported the pro-democracy movement, was shot dead as he spoke to a New York Times journalist in the Red Shirt protest camp at Ratchaprasong.
Red Shirt activist Klaus (not his real name), told Green Left Weekly: “Khattiya risked his military career by stepping out and supporting the movement against the coup and for democracy.
“During the conflict in April-May this year, he coordinated the activities of most [Red Shirt] guard groups and supervised the erection of the barricades and defence of the Red Shirt camp at Ratchaprasong.
“He is remembered as a hero by the Red Shirts and earned a firm place in our hearts because he sacrificed all his privileges as a high-ranking general for the Red Shirt cause and died as a warrior by the bullet of a cowardly army sniper.”
The military-dominated Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) appears to be increasingly ineffective. On November 19, large contingents of the police and military were mobilised from early in the morning. But less than half an hour after the rally began at 4pm, police completely retreated from Ratchaprasong, eyewitnesses said.
One the same day, CRES issued a decrees banning any goods that “cause disunity” on the pain of two years jail, a 40,000 baht fine, or both.
The decree said: “Individuals are forbidden to have in their possession, or possess with intent to sell or otherwise distribute, products, clothing, consumer goods, or any other objects that contain printing, writing, drawing, photography, or any other method that conveys a meaning which provokes, incites, agitates, or causes disunity in the general populace, or acts or supports acts which cause a state of emergency.”
Anti-regime T-shirts, sandals, floormats and a host of other popular anti-government merchandise —openly on sale in the streets — could be covered by the ban.
The latest Red Shirt protest also comes as sections of the pro-regime Yellow Shirt movement, which mobilised against the last elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, have started to turn against the military-installed government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The dissident factions are reported to be calling for another military coup to resolve the situation.
Klaus said the popular mood among Red Shirts was difficult to judge. “On one hand”, he said, “there is growing frustration about the continuing repression by the government, the strengthening influence of the army and the continuing attempt to hide and whitewash the government’s wrongdoings and violations of human rights during and since the crackdown.
“On the other hand, the frequent public activities of the Red Shirts are morale boosters and remind individual Red Shirt supporters that they are not alone.
“What is also obvious is that since September 19, a larger number of small groups of Red Shirts are getting more and more organised. Each of these groups is now able to initiate and stage their own mass activities.”