Reds in the city, Bangkok brinkmanship – New Mandala/CBC Canada



http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2010/03/14/sunday-in-bangkok-reds-in-the-city/

Earlier today, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship demanded that the Thai Government dissolve the House of Representatives within 24 hours. Otherwise, the Red shirts will disperse from the main rally area in front of Phan Fa bridge and spread around Bangkok.

Red shirts in party mood on Ratchadamnoen Ave earlier today. Will they be so cheerful tomorrow? (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

*UPDATE – Some of the Red shirts intend to move from the rally area to the HQ of the 11th infantry Regiment tomorrow morning, where PM Abhisit has been staying in recent days, and perhaps to other as-yet unspecified locations in Bangkok.

The deadline is noon tomorrow (Monday), so the Reds could bring Bangkok’s already-choked traffic to a standstill at the start of the working week, upping the ante with the Government.

Jaran Dithapichai told me that “we still have to analyse the situation, to see where we would go. But General Prem’s house, or the Prime Minister’s office, they are not important.”

Both sides are now clearly engaged in a form of brinkmanship, with Government mulling the introduction of emergency powers. The UDD takes this as an attempt to disband the protest, saying that the emergency laws prevent gatherings of more than 5 people.

UDD leaders speaking near the stage set up at Phan Fa Bridge believe that the Government is considering asking the courts to revoke the bail for some of its leadership, which would leave them vulnerable to arrest, which presumably the army would be empowered to enforce, under emergency powers.

The UDD believes that the police are “on our side”, citing the relaxation of stop-and-search procedures deployed on Redshirt convoys coming into Bangkok since Friday, mostly from the North and Northeast. Here and there this morning some police (not UDD guards) were seen sporting UDD paraphernalia. I counted four in all.

Paree Tanapura, a press officer with the Red shirts and Deputy Chief of Thai Red News, told me that the UDD leadership spoke with the PM’s office last night, to ask that protestors be allowed easier access to Bangkok. So this may have contributed to the police relaxing its policy, and shows that the Government and the UDD leadership are in contact and can agree on measures to eliminate potential flashpoints, even as both sides get set for a high noon Monday showdown.

Paree said that he think the Government’s apparent slowness to react to the Red shirt gathering indicates “indecisiveness and disagreement” in the Cabinet, and possibly also in the Army, or between the Government and Army.

If the UDD wants to follow-up on its ultimatum, then numbers will come into play – if it can disperse sufficient Red shirts around Bangkok to make life difficult for the Government. The UDD claims that 300,000 redshirts are already in and around Bangkok, and say that they expect that number to double by this evening. Thai newspapers estimate that not much more than 100,000 are gathered at the main protest area, with perhaps 150,000 – 200,000 possible if people keep coming. The numbers are difficult to assess, much less quantify, but walking down Ratchadamnoen Avenue, people moved around with ease and the area was far from jam-packed. This was at 1pm today, as the searing Bangkok heat took its toll on the assembled crowd, with many breaking toward side streets and hopping on tuktuks, nipping away from the rally area.

And elsewhere in Bangkok, life seems to be going as normal. The air-conditioned malls were busy as per any Sunday, with some Bangkokians apparently oblivious to the gathering storm outside. The BTS was no more or no less busy than usual. An IPhone stall set up just outside Siam Paragon attracted a steady crowd both this morning and earlier this afternoon, including few Red-clad would-be protestors checking-out the wares on display, and in no apparent hurry to join the masses near Phan Fa bridge.

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