Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aftermath of April 10 violent street battle in Bangkok


In the beginning it was more of an open street party. Now it is developing into something like an independent village in the heart of the city. People are installing themselves more comfortably, and the infrastructure is developing. The markets are getting diverse; the selection of street food is getting better by the day; the number of tents, shelters, street pharmacies, open air massage parlors and so on are increasing constantly. I even heard the red leaders calling the area “Ratchaprasong Resort”.

Anonymous, New Mandala, Red Shirts in Chiang Mai
....Increasingly they tell me they are ‘sua khaaw’ (white shirts), indicating that they have joined the still amorphous group of expanding Thais seeking to occupy unaligned political space between the Red and Yellow poles.  What’s more, the University crowd, with whom I spend most of my time, are readily apathetic to politics in general, their almost universal refrain to any political enquiry being ‘naa bua’ (boring).

The most obvious sign of the Red presence is the faithful who gather daily outside the Worarot Hotel, the headquarters of Chiang Mai’s Red Shirt movement.  And though the numbers have been little more than a few dozen on the occasions I have visited since the rally began, the Red Shirt supporters up here are not to be underestimated.  Earlier last week a local newspaper reported that four members of the core Chiang Mai Red Shirt group, ‘Rak Chiang Mai 51’ (Love Chiang Mai ‘08), had been sentenced to 20-years imprisonment for the (bashing) murder of the elderly father of a local Yellow Shirt community-radio operator in 2008.  In February 2009, the group forcibly shut down a local gay pride parade, later citing as justification that such activities contravened traditional northern ‘Lanna’ culture.  This appeal to an essentialised Lanna identity has become part of the regular discourse of some of the group’s more eloquent spokespeople.

It was with little surprise then that amidst the flurry of blogs, twitters, posts etc that were keeping internet users updated on events in Bangkok last night, reports emerged of Red Shirts storming the Provincial Hall in Chiang Mai.  It was against this background that I decided to go along and see for myself what exactly was taking place, frustrated at the lack of coverage either in the Bangkok or local Chiang Mai press.

Nick Nostitz, New Mandala, Mourning and defiance

 The day after the clashes, April 11, I walked the two sites of the battles – Thanon Dinso and Khok Wua intersection – looking at evidence. At Dinso, the second clash site, several vandalized tanks and humvees remained. The unit designations at the army vehicles were covered with tapes, hiding the unit identities (also during the battle soldiers refused to answer questions regarding unit). Between the tanks two were holes in the tarmac – blasts of grenades which killed and injured several soldiers. The street was spiked with bullet holes. I only found holes from the direction of the army towards the protesters – in the height of knees, stomach, heads and over the heads.

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