Chaos in Thailand – video and pictures

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.

Here are two sites you can get more pictures. Beware, some of the images are distressing graphic: From Boston Globe. From RedCyberClub.

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.

3 Responses to “Chaos in Thailand – video and pictures”

  1. 1 yuen 20 May 2010 at 12:27

    below is a comment I wrote in 2008; see for some related items

    How long will the newly elected Thai government, whether formed by People’s Power Party or Democratic Party, last? In other words, when is the next military coup?

    In fact, I have an even more frightening question: how long will the monarchy last? In Thailand itself, I could probably get arrested for merely publishing this sentence; even outside, people might think I have gone senile, since the Thai king is supposed to be venerated and has the loyalty of the army (which is in fact directly responsible to the King, not to the prime minister or defense ministry) so that any government that even talks about the topic would quickly fall, whether by a vote of parliament or by a coup. Yet, I believe my question is no longer a crazy one. For the election result not only showed the country to be deeply divided, with no one in government knowing how to solve the country’s major problems; it also shows the weakened hand of the monarchy and its army.

    Most of Thaksin’s support is in the rural areas, in particular the north; the Democratic Party is entrenched in Bangkok itself; the party can easily bring demonstrators into the streets. In 1988 Chamlong Srimuang, a retired general and former Mayor of Bangkok, had a long series of bangkok demonstrations against the Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, whose poor handling resulted in a bloody suppression at a local university and led to his downfall following royal intervention.

    In fact, if two years ago the King had intervened early in the Shincorp crisis, say by ordering Thaksin to make a voluntary tax payment, or in the middle stage by asking Thaksin to go into exile without taking part in the election he had just called, I believe the coup could have been averted. Now after two years of chaotic conditions Thailand is back to the democratic but divided state, and the weakened control the monarchy has over the political situation is made obvious for everyone to see; whereas two years ago I dont think Thaksin would have dared to call the bluff of the royal intervention, when the next crisis occurs, and I am sure it will, the bluff would be called.

    A few hundred years ago when the still reigning Chakri Dynasty was in its early days, a great monk prophesized that there will be no King Rama X; the current King, Rama IX, is over 70.

    Now I am not superstitious, nor am I a follower of buddhism or monks. Nevertheless, this prophesy is highly relevant to Thai politics, because Thais are serious buddhists. The thought “will this prophesy turn out to be correct?” is in their back of mind. This certainly made the kind of disrespect Thaksin showed to the royal house a much more touchy issue – the royal house also has the thought in the back of its mind “you must be thinking there will be no Rama X”. Further, the soldiers and army officers also have the same thought. It is not at all clear that they would obediently make the next coup when another one is called.

  2. 2 prettyplace 20 May 2010 at 17:04

    I thought you were already out.
    But looks like the macho side of you took over.
    I think it’s beat you try and get your ass back to Singapore.

    Not that you don’t know, the anger is deeply rooted between different divisions of the poor and middle class both in Bangkok and the rural area.

    Now the only card the govt is playing with is the Army and I think that is going to break into 2 as well and pretty soon.
    Then it will be mayhem.

    So stop the macho Singapore citizen journalism shit and get back ASAP.
    Everyone there from the Red to the Yellow shirts are trying to send a message that the other side is worst. The next best way is to crazily attack tourist and journalist, which they are already doing.
    So get out, we need you here to attack the PAP policies and not waiters and shoot photos

  3. 3 Han 20 May 2010 at 22:29

    Having been travelling to Bangkok for business for the past 15 years, some other thoughts:

    a) the King’s respect has been tenuous at best in the past decade. The extremely strict laws pertaining to discussing him says it all. Hundreds of anti-king websites are banned. He knows it, and rather than losing face by not having his views implemented, it will hasten his downfall.
    b) if he dies at any time in the next 6 months, expect more troubles. His son, also viewed with great suspicion by the population, is good friend of Thaksin. Hence, in some ways, the current fight is proxy for the next regime.
    c) the police has kept a very low profile, waiting for their turn. There are videos of some police chief in Bangkok who actually facilitated the rescue of some Red Shirts. Waiting for Thanksin to touch down?
    d) the Yellow Shirts are now lying low too but won’t be surprised if some of them making plans to go into exile soon. The arson attacks on the commercial properties and the Stock Exchange Building represents their interest.
    e) I watch the unfolding drama with great sadness but do look forward to visiting Bangkok again soon. The Thais deserve better.

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