Monday, March 29, 2010

Into the Lair of the Reds

Anyone following the news about Thailand already knows that the red shirts have shown their force once again. Mostly coming from the rural areas of country, particularly the Northeast, the red shirts claim to represent the voice of the poor, hence, they are in Bangkok to express their discontent on their supposed economic, political, and social marginalization.

Last year, the red shirts also staged a three-month long demonstration that culminated in a violent clash with the military during the Songkran celebrations (Buddhist New Year around April). This time, however, since the three weeks that they started the rallies, they have been generally peaceful.

With the red shirts' violent record, the government is watching them very closely and is making sure that security measures are in place to protect civil offices close to where the demonstrations are. Most of the big roads surrounding the area have been blocked, causing massive rerouting and its corollary traffic congestion.

I'm not spared of the headache of the traffic issues because I live very close to the rally. These past three weeks had been dreadful, especially when I try to leave my area. The buses have stopped plying my neighborhood and only a few taxis brave this part of town. I'm basically at the mercy of the river boat, but its hours of operation are very limited.

Meanwhile, businesses are also complaining of the lower-than-expected number of customers because Bangkok residents choose to stay at home instead (the traffic had been totally dreadful and also there's always the threat of violence) and tourists are skipping Bangkok.

Because of my job, I will reserve my opinion on the whole political situation in Thailand, but I had been curious of the situation in the demonstration site, close to the Democracy Monument, which is just a few minutes' walk from my house. Lara Stone and I finally made the trip there last Saturday.

Above is Lara Stone in the flesh (gasp!) wearing a mask of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former Prime Minister of Thailand, who is supposedly orchestrating the whole red shirt demonstration. It's funny that Lara Stone wore yellow to visit the red shirts' lair. Yellow is the color of the anti-red shirt force. He got out of the demonstration alive, BTW.

We did not find an angry mob, instead the entire area had a festive atmosphere of people clad in red and raising clappers in the shape of a foot. They do occupy a large swath of the roads around the monument, with their main stage set close to the Golden Mount.

Because we went there late in the afternoon to early evening and because it was a weekend, there was quite a huge crowd. Loud music blasted from speakers spread all over the venue. Between songs were speeches by perhaps some movement leaders and regularly pierced by loud cheers from the crowd followed by the shrill explosion of the clappers. Again, it's a peaceful and even organized demonstration.

The latest is, the government, through the Prime Minister, held talks with the leaders of the red shirt movement yesterday. I've yet to update my self if there were agreements, but it seems there is still no end in sight for the demonstrations.

Judging from similar instances in the past, this recent wave of demonstrations and stand-ins could stretch many more weeks, perhaps even months. If there's anything we are thankful for at the moment, the rally had been generally in control.

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