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Thai red shirts defy crackdown with carnival-like protest


(“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.

 Nothing seems surprising these days in Bangkok. Behind the three-metre high barricades, like some dystopian vision of a future world gone awry — Mad Max set in Thailand —  stretches the red shirt encampment, a makeshift village in the middle of Bangkok’s ritzy  shopping and tourism area.  In front of the barricades are the police lines, where a new group called the “multi-coloured shirts ”have gathered to hurl insults and the occasional glass bottle at the barricades. These are folks fed up with the six-week long sit-in in the capital that has decimated the vital tourism industry with the loss of thousands of jobs. On Thursday night, from somewhere behind the red shirt barricades, somebody fired M-79 grenades from a shoulder-mounted launcher. They fell among the “multi-coloured shirts” and tourists coming out of Patpong, killing one person and injuring scores, including four foreigners.

   The red shirt camp was jubilant afterward, sensing the tide of battle had turned in their favour. The army chief on Friday ruled out any attempt to disperse the roughly 15,000-20,000 people in the encampment, including women and children, because it would result in too much bloodshed. A failed attempt to eject protesters from another site killed 25 on April 10.