Demonstrations Against the Ruling Government
Anti-government protesters poured a small amount of blood at the headquarters of the government in Bangkok on Tuesday, but the demonstrations did not live up to their threat to douse the minister’s office in blood.
The protesters are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006. Thaksin was the only Thai prime minister to serve a full term and remains hugely popular. He fled the country in 2008 while facing trial on corruption charges that he says were politically motivated.
The protesters say Abhisit was not democratically elected and have demanded that he call new elections. Since Thaksin’s ouster, Thailand has endured widespread political unrest that has pitted Thaksin loyalists against Abhisit supporters.
The protesters intended to collect 1,000 liters and then throw the blood on the grounds of the Government House, which houses ministerial offices, at 6 p.m. (7 a.m. ET). If Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajva, who still has nearly two years left in his term, still refuses to dissolve parliament, the demonstrators said they will collect another 1,000 liters of blood Wednesday and splash it on the headquarters of the ruling party.
The protesters had launched a blood drive earlier to collect enough samples for the demonstration. Thousands of “red shirts” – so named for their clothing – held out their forearms to allow their blood to be drawn out by medical workers in air-conditioned tents.
Health officials, the Red Cross and even the protesters’ figurehead, Mr. Thaksin, expressed concern about how hygienic the mass blood donation was. But the protesters, including several monks, brushed off the concerns.
“We have three tens for blood donations. All people who conduct the blood drawing will be doctors, nurses or other qualified people who came here voluntarily,” said senior red shirt leader, Dr. Weng Tojilakarn, who normally runs his own medical practice. (BBC)
Somsak Janrasert, a retired railway official from Bangkok, told AFP news agency that he was donating blood because he wanted a democracy. “This is a very symbolic way to express that our blood, the people’s blood, is power,” he said. (BBC)
The protesters held up the containers of blood like offerings to an angry god before pouring them out. Clumps of coagulated blood clung to the pavement. A Brahmin walked barefoot through the foamy red pools and performed a ceremony. A soldier in full riot gear fainted.
Tens of thousands of security forces remain on standby and army leaders say they plan to be flexible and gentle with the demonstrators as their protests continue.
In Bangkok, red-shirt leader Veera Musikapong was the first to donate blood for the protest. “This blood is a sacrificial offering. To show our love for the nation, to show our sincerity,” he said. (BBC)
“If Abhisit is still stubborn, even though he does not have blood on his hands, his feet will be bloodied with our curses,” another leader, Nattawut Saikua, said. (BBC)
“We will curse them with our blood and our soul!” Saikua yelled to a roaring crowd of several thousand people at Government House, including farmers, monks and vegetable sellers.
“The blood of the common people is mixing together to fight for democracy,” Saikua told cheering supporters. “When Abhisit works in his office, he will be reminded that he is sitting on the people’s blood.” (CBC)
As night fell, protesters converged on Government House. Police allowed a group of them to approach the gates and splash the blood, a gesture shown on national television. As the crowd outside the gates shouted “Get out!” an officer in military uniform made an announcement on a loudspeaker. “Thank you,” the officer said to the crowd. “We applaud you.” (New York Times)
“To make a monk bleed is one of the worst sins,” said Phol Chanthasaro, a monk in orange robes who stood at the gates of Government House. “I want the government to understand right and wrong.” (New York Times)
Once the crowd had dispersed and the hundreds of soldiers guarding the prime minister’s office were allowed a break, a clean-up crew in white suits and rubber gloves arrived. They scrubbed the bloody pavement clean.
Some banks in the neighbourhood closed their doors, but most other areas of Bangkok were unaffected by the protests.
The anti-government demonstrations began Friday. The rallies have been largely peaceful.
On Sunday 100,000 protesters held a mass rally in central Bangkok. Local newspapers have reported that protests were also being held in several northern provinces to coincide with the Bangkok actions.
On Monday, thousands of protesters departed from their encampment in downtown Bangkok to besiege an army base on the edge of the capital where Abhisit has partly been based during the protests.
The Government’s Response
For its part, the government remains quiet on the sidelines. A cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday appears to have been canceled after the majority of the members, including the prime minister, did not show up. Calls from members of Mr. Abhisit’s coalition for a parliamentary hearing have been ignored.
Mr. Abhisit, meanwhile, said the government was making every effort to avoid confrontation. “I want to insist that there was an attempt to create conflict and the government has proved that it will not use violent means against the protesters,” he said. “The symbolic event they are talking about is bloodshed, but that is not correct. It is not as if the government is trying to use violence to create bloodshed, it’s not the case at all.” (BBC)
Abhisit told a nationwide television audience that his government’s goal is not to “remain entrenched” but that it would not step down in response to the protesters. He said the government would listen to the demonstrators. (CBC)
Affect on Tourism
The nation’s tourism minister estimated the demonstrations might have resulted in a 20 percent drop in tourists. The impact on Chinese visitors appears to have been greater, with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce reporting a 50 percent cancelation rate.
The U.S. Embassy said that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell, on a swing through Asia, skipped the scheduled visit to Thailand Tuesday because he did not wish to add to “logistical burdens facing our Thai friends at this time.” (CBC)
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry “strongly advised” travelers to avoid protest sites and prominent government buildings in Bangkok, including Government House and the parliament building.
Street protests have often been dramatic during the past four years of political deadlock in Bangkok.
In November 2008, when a pro-Thaksin government was in power, anti-Thaksin protesters, known as the Yellow Shirts, closed Bangkok’s two international airports, standing hundreds of thousands of travelers. They camped out on the lawn of the prime minister’s residence for several months, blocking access to government officials.
In April last year, the Red Shirts threatened to blow up trucks carrying flammable gas during riots in Bangkok and pummeled the car carrying the prime minister, who narrowly escaped. They raided a hotel where leaders from around the region were gathering, sending the prime ministers of China, Japan and many other nations scrambling to leave the country.
In Other News……
Five-year-old Sahil Saeed was released at a school in the Punjab province of Pakistan, near his parents’ residence in Oldham, after being kidnapped on March 3. Sahil was in good condition and is with members of his family along with the Pakistani police. There has also been contact from the British High Commission. Sahil had already spoken to his mother and father in England by telephone and both parents were “clearly relieved” to speak to their son. (BBC)