Thai protesters face impasse

March 15, 2010

By Ambika Ahuja

Anti-government protesters massing in Bangkok face a tricky question: continue with a non-violent strategy that emphasises peaceful protests and risk losing momentum or try a more provocative approach that could lead to a reprise of last April’s riots –Thailand’s worst street violence in 17 years – which discredited them.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who still enjoys strong support from the miltary’s top brass and the country’s establishment, rebuffed on Monday calls to dissolve parliament and hold fresh electsion. Protesters retreated to their main encampment on Bangkok’s streets.

They have no plans to march anywhere else on Tuesday. Instead they came up with a eyebrow-raising symbolic measure, calling on each protesters to donate 10 cc of blood to pour outside Government House nearby on Tuesday morning.

“This looks like a symbolic move to keep protesters looking forward to something new before they come up with something more concrete,” said Karn Yuenyong, director of an independent think tank, Siam Intelligence Unit.

But without a clearer strategy, the movement of mostly rural protesters who have slept on the streets at night and marched under blazing heat during the day, may start losing steam.

“In the short term, the government has an advantage because they can wait this out as long as they make sure there is no casualty as a result of their action,” Karn said.

The battle for legitimacy to govern, played out publicly, means both sides have to present a non-violent front. Whoever is seen as using violence first risks losing public support.

But analysts warned that a grenade attack on Monday at a military base in Bangkok highlighted the volatility of the situation despite widespread calls for non-violence on both sides and orderly nature of the protest so far.

Karn said there is support in both camps for those who may want to instigate violence to change the political equation.

“There are many players involved working toward different goals,” Karn said. “While some work toward long-term change, others may want to add a catalyst to end it quickly.”

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