Anti-Government Protests Escalate in Thailand

Anti-government "red shirt" protesters climb on top of two tanks outside a busy Bangkok mall.
Anti-government "red shirt" protesters climb on top of two tanks outside a busy Bangkok mall.

When I exited the train at a Bangkok mall, people were running to the railing, shouting and looking down. I thought this couldn’t possibly be a “red shirt” anti-government protest. But as I joined others and saw the street below, it was clear that demonstrators had returned to the city in force.

Two government tanks sat in the middle of what is usually a busy street. On top of the tanks were dozens of men in red; all around them were hundreds more. Some protesters waved the flag of Thailand, others wearing red bandannas over their faces pumped their fists in the air. In spite of the prime minister issuing a state of emergency to help keep Bangkok and other areas secure, police and soldiers did not do much to stop the protesters, from what I could see.

As I was getting out my camera, a lady next to me shouted down at demonstrators, who quickly returned her remarks with hostile gestures. Presumably, the woman has a “yellow shirt” mindset, a supporter of the existing government.

Looking through my viewfinder with one eye and trying to maintain my focus on the activities around me, I noticed red shirts running up the stairs into the rail station. One man with a red bandanna stood next to me, waving with both hands at his friends below, encouraging them to to join him. Behind me, police began to drop the emergency gates to block out the protesters. I raced inside the now-secure station just in time.

The basic story is that “red shirt” protesters want the prime minister and other leaders to resign and want a once-popular prime minster (who was convicted of corruption and was ousted in a coup) to return to power.

Just yesterday, “red shirt” demonstrators had stormed a hotel in a town 90 miles south of Bangkok, disturbing a summit between Bangkok’s prime minister and the leaders of other Asian nations. The intended goal of the summit was to plan a coordinated response to the economic crisis. Instead, the leaders had to leave by helicopter.

One reason why I wanted to exit the train at the Siam Center stop was that it was a very “Western” area where I could probably get a hamburger. It’s regarded as a safe place. Signs in the Siam Pavilion shopping mall are in English. You might mistake it for any luxury mall in America.

I still don’t think the area is unsafe, in spite of the rowdy protest. But other areas of Bangkok saw even more action, including an attack on what protesters believed was the prime minister’s car. The next few days will be telling. If the government decides to act with more force, I worry how “red shirt” demonstrators will respond. For now, the “red shirts” have considerable power.

Some say that the polarization in Thailand is growing, calling the country “ungovernable.” That causes me some distress, as the interests of the poor and marginalized are at the forefront of my mind. With an ongoing power struggle, it may be increasingly difficult to improve the plight of those with the greatest need.

Writer’s note: Humanitarian organization World Concern focuses on helping the poor and generally declines involvement in political activism. All opinions are the blog author’s only and not those of the organization. The author just happens to be in Thailand as he sets out on a 40-day visit World Concern’s humanitarian activites across Asia.

A "red shirt" anti-government protester motions to his friends to join him inside a Bangkok rail station.
A "red shirt" anti-government protester motions to his friends to join him inside a Bangkok rail station.

Hundreds of anti-government "red shirt" protesters climb on top of two tanks in Bangkok April 12.
Hundreds of anti-government "red shirt" protesters surround two tanks in Bangkok April 12.
A "red shirt" protester wearing a mask uses a megaphone to help coordinate outside Bankok's Siam Pavilion mall.
A "red shirt" protester wearing a mask uses a megaphone to help coordinate outside Bankok's Siam Pavilion mall.
"Red shirt" anti-government protesters move barricades without resistance outside a Bangkok mall.
"Red shirt" anti-government protesters move barricades without resistance outside a Bangkok mall.
Security officials at Bankok's Siam rail stop lower security gates as protesters arrive at the entrance.
Security officials at Bankok's Siam rail stop lower security gates as protesters arrive at the entrance.
Security gates shut out "red shirt" protesters and other potential riders at Bangkok's Siam rail station.
Security gates shut out "red shirt" protesters and other potential riders at Bangkok's Siam rail station.

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