FaithWorld

A week after riots, Thai capital prays for peace

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Buddhist monks receive alms in Bangkok on May 26, 2010 during a gathering for peace prayers/Yannis Behrakis

Thousands of Thais prayed for peace and unity in Bangkok on Wednesday, a week after a deadly military crackdown on protesters sparked a terrifying night of arson and riots that levelled buildings and killed 54 people.

But analysts say without major reforms to a political system that protesters claim favours an “establishment elite” over the rural masses, such prayers and forgiveness will not end a polarising crisis costing the economy billions of dollars.

Hundreds of saffron-robed Buddhist monks received food from well wishers along a shopping mall occupied by anti-government protesters for six weeks until they were dispersed by troops and armoured vehicles last week.

Next to them were Christian, Muslim and Sikh leaders, who also conducted prayers to bless the riot-torn city of 15 million people as predominantly Buddhist Thailand grapples with widening social and political rifts that have spiralled dangerously into the open in the past five years.

Religion-themed films take top prizes at Cannes Film Festival

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul (in white) and cast member Wallapa Mongkolprasert at the screening of ''Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat'' (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives) in Cannes on May 21, 2010/Yves Herman

A Buddhist-inspired Thai film has won the coveted Palme d’Or for best picture at the Cannes film festival. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” a mystical exploration of reincarnation as a well-to-do farmer confronts his imminent death, was directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men,” based on the real-life story of seven Catholic monks murdered during unrest in Algeria in the 1990s, took the runner-up Grand Prix award at the closing session on Sunday.

Can saffron be red in Thailand?

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(A monk walks along a red shirt barricade in Bangkok's business district on April 25/Sukree Sukplang)

At the sprawling red shirt encampment in central bank, Buddhist monks clad in their distinctive saffron robes mingle with men wearing helmets walking around with sharpened bamboo sticks.

Just about every night, rumours sweep the the sprawling encampment of tents, sounds trucks and makeshift stalls that a long anticipated crackdown is imminent. The men stare at the three-metre barricades made of tyres, bamboo poles and rubble that surround much of the encampment, about the size of a large city park, waiting to pelt soldiers armed with  assault rifles with pellets from their sling shots and thrusts of their bamboo spears.

How to win hearts and minds in Thailand’s Muslim south?

THAILAND-SOUTH/More than five years after a Muslim insurgency erupted in southern Thailand, the conflict remains shrouded in mystery, with no credible claims of responsibility for the bloodshed in a once independent Malay Muslim land with a history of rebellion to Buddhist Thai rule.

On June 8, gunmen burst into a mosque and killed 10 people as they prayed. Thailand blamed separatist insurgents for the bloodiest attack this year in the mainly Muslim region bordering Malaysia where nearly 3,500 people have died in violence since 2004. But the head of the world’s biggest Islamic body urged Thailand to protest its Muslim minority after local residents put the blame on military-backed elements. (Photo: Thai Muslims pray at a funeral after the mosque attack, 9 June 9 2009/Surapan Boonthanom)

Reuters correspondent Martin Petty toured the area last week in the wake of the attacks. He talked to a woman who narrowly escaped an assassin’s bullet in Yala.  She said she doesn’t know who wanted her dead or why. Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra blamed mafia-style smuggling gangs for the violence, but security analysts believe homegrown separatist groups — with little or no ties to al Qaeda or other regional militant networks — are behind the violence.

Recession-hit Asians pray for jobs, luck, recovery

ASIA-RELIGION/ As companies shed jobs and governments inject funds to stimulate economies, recession-hit believers in once-booming Southeast Asia are flocking to temples, churches and mosques to seek solace in religion — and pray for a quick economic recovery.

Meditation centres have also seen an upswing in attendance and people seek peace and calm amid the economic downturn. (Photo: Hindus pray in a Singapore temple, 24 May 2009/Vivek Prakash)

Reuters correspondent Nopporn Wong-Anan has a feature here looking at how people seek spiritual solace at a time of material loss in Asia, home to all the major religions and any number of minor ones.

Thai haj pilgrims find airport chaos a test of faith

(Photo:Anti-government protesters at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, 21 Nov 2008Kerek Wongsa)

David Fox of our Asia Desk in Singapore found this interesting faith story amid the protests at Bangkok’s international airport:

BANGKOK – Hundreds of Thai Muslims on a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca were spending a third night sleeping rough at Bangkok’s international airport on Thursday, victims of anti-government protests that have paralysed air travel.