The Fire Next Time in Thailand

May 24, 2010

(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)

THAILAND/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.

We walked past darkened Soi Cowboy, whose raucous go-go bars should have been crammed with visitors. “You know, it’s serious when Soi Cowboy is closed,” my colleague said. “Soi Cowboy never closes.”

What happened in Bangkok last week was, indeed, unprecedented. The worst eruption of political violence, rioting, arson and general mayhem in modern Thai history.  An initially peaceful, if not festive, protest movement ended up in an orgy of violence that killed 85 people and wounded  more than 1,400, according to official figures.  Almost 40 buildings were set ablaze, including the stock exchange and Central World, Southeast Asia’s largest  shopping mall. The targets of the arson attack – symbols of wealth and privilege – were probably no accident.

Thailand is undergoing, what in some respects, appears to be a 19th century style revolution: peasant and proletariat (the red shirts) versus the aristocrats — family business dynasties, military brass, members of the educated middle class and a royalist establishment (the yellow shirts).

It’s been brewing for decades, and has come to a head at a time when revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the sole unifying father figure in Thailand, has been hospitalized. He has stepped in to defuse previous crises in his 63 years on the throne. But not this time.

 Bangkok reopened for business on Monday. The Skytrain thundering overhead. The Tuk-tuk taxis weaving manically through traffic-clogged streets, hawkers shouting above the din, and the rats retreating to their underground nests. The government announced that economic growth for the rest of the year would be around 4.5-5.5 percent – it would have been a point or so higher but for the prolonged protest and riots, but still pretty good in the current climate.

(An anti-government “red shirt” supporter surrenders to army soldiers in Bangkok May 19, 2010.   REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

THAILAND/Why the “City of Angels” descended into a hellish war-zone will be debated for a long, long time. The government will say the protesters had to be disbanded because an armed faction in their midst was ready to provoke insurrection. The protesters say the government should have negotiated more with them instead of sending in the army

But Thailand’s next eruption seems inevitable. It may take time for the red shirts to regroup under new leaders. Maybe next time they won’t come to Bangkok in such a festive mood. The Red Shirts patriarch and patron,ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 coup, warned of this on the day of the rioting. “There is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas,” Thaksin told Reuters as troops fought protesters in Bangkok, sparking violence in outer provinces.

If that happens investors and tourists will flee Thailand faster than rats off a sinking ship.

3 comments

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The recent Reds rampage of arson and grenade attacks, which resulted in 39 buildings gutted and dozens of lives lost and more scarred were orchestrated by a very vindictive Thaksin Shinawatra, after a Thai court ruling weeks ago confiscated $1.4 billion of his ill-gotten assets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBDm-jA3N 80

Thailand has a democracy, admittedly an imperfect one as common in most developing Asian countries. So it was a stretch for most Thais to take seriously the Thai Reds protests as espousing ‘democracy’; and surely enough when PM Abhisit’s government offered a Nov. 14th election and a house dissolution, was rejected by the Reds leader even though that was their objective when they started their protests.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBDm-jA3N 80

The Reds movement is a rebellion no ifs and buts and its cause is to serve the vindictive dark ends of its patron and paymaster Thaksin Shinawatra.

Posted by Vichai_N | Report as abusive

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“The protesters say the government should have negotiated more with them instead of sending in the army.”

and you believe that?

again, saying it without mention that, at first the protesters request a real fixed new election date from the PM, and promised that they will leave bangkok after they get the date.

then the PM offer the election date as they ask which the protester leaders did agree with the road map, but later the protester leaders refuse to leave bangkok as they promised, keep bringup more and more demand. that why we see the crackdown.

all of that just show how little you know or even read a news about it!

Posted by blackout | Report as abusive

“Thailand’s next eruption seems inevitable.”

now that is the only think i agree with you.

thais don’t fix problem. thais will only blind them self from the problem and keep telling themself that it is going to be ok when it is not ok to keep quite to one another with out really talk to find a common ground.

and most of all, money is god there. people can sell everything from house, land, car, to wife and child for money. that is the real thai culture. don’t believe me? ask those from north and northeast where many parents feel nothing to sell a daughter for money. really ask them why they need money that much and you will see an unthinkable stupid and selfish answer. try it your self.

Posted by blackout | Report as abusive