Here’s a video of the upscale shopping mall Central World on fire. Thursday morning, it was reported that the building was close to collapse.
It appears that the Thai government was totally unprepared for what followed their push into the Red encampment Wednesday (19 May) morning. They failed to anticipate the anger of the protesters.
Part of the reason may be that they believed their own propaganda – that the Red Shirts were there because they were paid by former prime minister Thaksin to do his bidding, and that the fighters within the camp were just hired thugs. Thaksin may have been funding the protest, but it’s much more than that. There is a genuine anger against the injustices that the rural masses and urban poor have suffered over decades.
As news of the crackdown in Bangkok spread, the provinces erupted (as I fully expected). Here’s a video from the northeastern city of Khon Kaen, showing a television station burning:
From the start, the strategy of isolating and containing the Red Shirt protest in downtown Bangkok was incompetently implemented. The military never once set up a non-porous blockade. They never really established a sterile containment zone.
Granted it was difficult because the Red Shirts wouldn’t let them. What was notable between Friday 14 May and Tuesday 18 May was the way the Red Shirts went on the offensive. All the clashes that took place during that period were NOT in their encampment, but 100 to 1000 metres outside of it. In other words, as the military tried to set up a blockade (half-heartedly) the Red Shirts attacked their efforts.
Thus the military and government started to appear weak, unable even to provide security for themselves as they announced on television that they would stop food and supplies getting into the Red Shirts’ area. This deteriorating public image then forced their hand; they had to act more macho, and thus the armoured personnel carriers were called in. The (non-violent) plan to starve the Red Shirts into submission was never given a chance to work.
Every step of the way, we see the government being caught by surprise. They just failed to anticipate the other side’s next moves.
Now the troubles are even wider than just in Bangkok. You saw above the video from Khon Kaen. A large protest in Chiang Mai paralysed its main shopping street of Huay Kaeo, and reportedly resulted in violence too.
You should also pause a moment and reflect on how the digital age has enabled us to see such images (and video) as instantaneously as this, and how the sources are no longer confined to the mainstream reporting.
But while the technology has changed, the danger involved in getting such images has not. One journalist died yesterday, several others shot. How many non-mainstream reporters lost their lives or were hurt bringing you the news, nobody’s keeping count.