Global News Journal

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The Fire Next Time in Thailand

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(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.

In line of fire at Bangkok protests

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- A man is dragged to safety after being shot on Rama IV Road during clashes between army soldiers and anti-government ‘red shirt’ supporters in Bangkok on Sunday. (Reuters/Jerry Lampen)

may 16 7It 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.”

Discord in Thai kingdom

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THAILAND/ 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.

Thai red shirts defy crackdown with carnival-like protest

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(“Red shirt” protesters dancing in the main shopping district in Bangkok. Reuters/Eric Gaillard )

THAILAND/ 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.

from Russell Boyce:

The promise of seven blood baths in Bangkok and no violence

    With the same ghoulish intrigue that children pull the wings off a fly, the legs off spiders or as motorists slow to look at a scene of a bad accident, I waited to see the pictures from last night's demonstration in Thailand. The "red shirt" wearing supporters of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra promised the world the sight of a million cubic centimetres of blood being drawn from the arms of his supporters and then thrown over Government House to demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call an immediate election.  A million is a bold figure that I tried to picture; a thousand cubic centimetres, one litre, so one thousand litre cartons of milk.  A more compact notion of the volume would be to visualise a cubic metre of blood; or in more practical terms in the UK the average bath size is 140 litres, so that is just over seven baths filled with blood.

blood syringe

A supporter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra donates blood during a gathering in Bangkok March 16, 2010. Anti-government protesters will collect one million cubic centimetres of blood to pour outside the Government House in Bangkok, in a symbolic move to denounce the government as part of their demonstration to call for fresh elections. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Thai protesters face impasse

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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.

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