May 19, 2010

Bangkok burning as protestors scatter

POLITICS - The Thai military overran the Red Shirt protestors, arresting hundreds but scattering an unknown number across the city of Bangkok last night. The military used armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers to crush the barricades and shelters. Many of those protestors resorted to arson as they fled, resulting in 20+ fires that now continue to burn across the city.

The Bangkok Stock Exchange, the electrical grid, a ritzy shopping complex and a cinema are just a few of the locations set ablaze as the protestors fled.

The Red Shirts want new and fair elections, and hopefully the return of a deposed leader who was removed from power in 2006's military coup.

The main leaders of the Red Shirts are now in custody and were preaching restraint and peaceful surrender even before they were captured, but such self control has fallen on the deaf ears of the desperate young men who believe the corrupt military must be overthrown by any means necessary.

And so Bangkok burns today.

Post Offices and government buildings are under attack, reports of violence and rioting have spread to other parts of Thailand. The military continues to crackdown on the protestors, using snipers, tear gas and firing into crowds. Four more people were killed last night, including an Italian photojournalist. Over 60 others were injured, including a Canadian freelance journalist and filmaker.

After months of bloody street battles this is surely not the end of the conflict. The sound of gunfire in the city is constant and thick clouds of black smoke now hangs over many parts of the city.

The Red Shirts, formally called the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, had 4,000 to 5,000 people at the protest sites before the bulldozers came, including women and children.

“I have no plan to flee. I am here to fight for better Thailand. I don’t mind dying for my country,” said 54-year-old protester Saman Niyakul as he prepared a homemade rocket. “There are too many double-standards and that’s what I cannot stand. We have to fight that.”

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejiajiva favours the country’s rich and well-connected elites, especially those connected with the country’s royalty. The protestors say this is unfair and want equality for all.

The government has offered peace talks with the protest leaders and the leaders have complied to do so peacefully, but not all their followers trust the offer of peace and worry it will be a massacre.

"How can we trust a government that shoots civilians with snipers?" said one protestor.

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