(Thai firefighters douse the Central World shopping mall building that was set on fire by anti-government “red shirt” protesters in Bangkok May 19, 2010. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
We were walking down Sukhumvit road in downtown Bangkok just after the 9 p.m. curfew – down the MIDDLE of a road that on any other Friday night would have been filled with honking vehicles, hawkers, tourists and touts. We were escorting a colleague home from the temporary newsroom in that Reuters had set up at the Westin Hotel after we were chased out of our office near the red shirt encampment in central Bangkok. Not a creature was stirring. But what was that sound we kept hearing? Squeak, squeak, squeak.Then we saw them. Rats. Thousands of them. Scurrying along in packs on the sidewalks, the streets, the closed-down Skytrain overhead, at the entrances to shuttered shops, around piles of garbage that had mounted in the Thai capital since the May 19th riots. It was like a movie about an urban apocalyptic event where humans are wiped out and the vermin are triumphant.
It was 2 a.m. on a Friday morning and we were stuck in the Reuters office on the 35th floor of the U Chu Liang Building. Thai anti-government protesters had begun rioting after their military strategist, a flamboyant major-general known as “Commander Red” was shot in the head as he was being interviewed by the New York Times at the “red shirt” protest encampment that occupies a huge chunk of expensive real estate in the Thai capital.
The protesters had swarmed into our parking lot, troops hot on their heels. One red shirt was shot dead, taking a bullet through his eye, outside our office. Our managers had ordered us to evacuate, but we had to wait until the violence died down outside. I strapped on a 10 kg flak jacket and helmet emblazoned with “press stickers”, took a ride down the cargo elevator in a building under emergency power, and stepped carefully into the parking lot, looking around to see if it was safe for the remaining people in the newsroom to leave. It was quiet, as I crept around the parking lot, dodging from car to car, feeling slightly ridiculous. A taxi was parked just outside. I was beginning to understand what gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson meant when he said in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: ”When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Punchai is arranging strings of flowers under the imposing statue of King Rama VI at the entrance of Lumphini Park in Bangkok. The statue overlooks one end of the sprawling “red shirt” encampment that occupies a 3 square-km area of downtown Bangkok.
An altar has been set up at the base of the statue of a king who ruled from 1910 to 1925 and is generally credited with paving the way for democractic reforms in the kingdom. He is also the creator of Lumphini Park.
(“Red shirt” protesters dancing in the main shopping district in Bangkok. Reuters/Eric Gaillard )
I saw Chewbacca last night at the red shirts barricades in Bangkok.
The hairy Star Wars character was standing with a couple of red shirt protesters who were directing traffic in front of their wall of truck tyres, chunks of paving stone and bamboo poles at the entrance to the business district, and the Patpong go-go bars. I was in a taxi and didn’t have a chance to ask the guy in the Wookie suit what he was doing at midnight standing between the red shirts and lines of riot police, shield and batons at ready, under a bank of spotlights shedding garish light on an other-wordly scene. The gentle hairy character doesn’t speak in the movies so maybe no explanation would have been forthcoming.
HANOI, April 9 (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders were set
on Friday to adopt strategies for keeping economic growth on
track, bolstering their political and economic community and
making common cause on climate change.
The 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) will keep “supportive policies” in place to
consolidate the economic recovery, but will withdraw stimulus
measures when private demand returns, a draft of their
declaration to be issued when they wrap up an annual summit
later on Friday said.
HANOI (Reuters) – Southeast Asian leaders began talks on Thursday about building a strong economic and political community at an annual summit clouded by unrest in Thailand and Myanmar’s widely derided election plans.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva canceled his trip to Hanoi for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ summit after declaring a state of emergency on Wednesday to control a month-long anti-government protest aimed at forcing an election.
HANOI, April 7 (Reuters) – Myanmar will be grilled about
its much derided election laws when foreign ministers from the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet in Hanoi on
Wednesday, Thailand’s top diplomat said.
“This evening, I hope we will be talking about Myanmar,”
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters after
arriving in Hanoi for a working dinner with his ASEAN
Singapore’s warning of a terrorist threat in the Malacca Straits has again highighted the issue of who is in charge of security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have stepped up sea patrols in the strait after Singapore’s navy said on Thursday it had received indications a terrorist group was planning attacks on oil tankers.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 33-year-old mother of two, will have an audience with Malaysian royalty next week when she will ask to be caned. Malaysia’s royals (the country has nine sultans, one for each state on the peninsula) don’t usually grant audiences to commoners, even part-time models such as Kartika, to discuss corporal punishment. But the Malay royal families are officially in charge of religious affairs, and Kartika was convicted two years ago in an Islamic court of drinking a beer.