The day after deadly explosions hit the main banking district of Bangkok, conciliatory voices were heard urging compromise and suggesting that talks remained possible.
The calls for renewed negotiations come despite the depth of disagreement between anti-Government “Redshirts” on the one hand, and the government and its “multi-colored” supporters on the other.
After a meeting with a group of foreign diplomats, the Redshirts relaxed their previous demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve the Thai government immediately, asking instead for a 30-day deadline.
As the massed ranks of red-shirted protesters at Rajaprasong applauded, Redshirt leaders stood on stage in front of a banner that claimed the movement to be one of peaceful protestors, rather than terrorists—refuting the claims that grenades had been fired from the Redshirt encampment into the Silom district the previous night.
The Government has since said it has not come to a conclusion as to who was responsible for the blasts, which caused chaos and terror in Bangkok’s main banking and finance district.
Earlier on Friday morning, Redshirts and police agreed on a temporary pull-back deal after a tense 7 a.m. confrontation at the Silom/ Lumphini Park intersection when police sought the removal of the Redshirts’ tire and bamboo wall. The protesters demurred, moving their people back from the barricade, which remained intact at the original location, but refused to tear down the wall. By 10 p.m. On Friday evening, the police had moved the much-diminished pro-government, anti-Redshirt group a further 100m the other direction along Silom Road.
Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda—dismissed in some quarters as having shed real power to successor-designate Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha—reiterated his previously stated view that the impasse between the Redshirts and the government should be resolved by political means, upping the pressure on Abhisit to end the two-week Redshirt occupation of Rajaprasong by peaceful means.
However, to the Thai prime minister, this must feel like a tug of war competition, as pro-government protestors exhort him to clear the Redshirts by force if necessary.
The drama and bloodshed of last Thursday night lingers in the minds of those who were present in Silom. The first explosions took place hundreds of meters away from the main protest site at the Silom/ Lumphini Park intersection. Three blasts were heard on the roof of Sala Daeng train station, followed an hour later by two more which went off in the area where pro-government, anti-Redshirt protesters had gathered over the past few evenings.
Each time an explosion occured, hundreds of Thais and several dozen foreign journalists ran for cover, unable to anticipate when and where the next blasts, if any, would take place. This correspondent saw 10 casualties lifted away and taken by ambulance.
The Thai government later stated that 75 people had been injured and one killed by the explosions, a downward revision from a preliminary total of three dead.
Later on Thursday evening, blood and shrapnel were visible on the pavement and steps outside the coffee shop and bank where the latter explosions took place, 40 meters from the tire-and-bamboo barricade that marks the entrance to the Redshirt occupied-zone, which stretches almost two km down to Rajaprasong intersection and some of Bangkok’s plush shopping malls
Shops and restaurants immediately shuttered their doors on Thursday night, fearing more blasts. However a mob of around 20 anti-Redshirt protesters, calling themselves the “Love Silom group,” returned to the interface outside Silom train station, breaking glass bottles and hurling the remnants at the Redshirt line, and later turning their ire on the police.
After almost one hour, riot police moved in to stop the violence, driving the group, some of whom carried slingshots, down Silom Road, while sustaining a barrage of bricks and glass bottles from the infuriated protesters, who had earlier smashed police van windows after floodlights were turned on the glass-wielding anti-Reds.
Throughout the night, people close to the explosions screamed abuse at and about the Redshirts while chanting anti-Thaksin slogans in reference to the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and remains a continued target of pro-government ire.
Outside O’Reilly’s pub under Sala Daeng station, Mint, 29, said that she could not believe this was happening in Bangkok. “Thailand is not the same any more. We now kill people on the street,” she said.
Thursday’s explosions came after a confrontational few nights at Silom, where the “multi-colored” or “no colored” pro-government groups gathered from early in the evening, chanting and taunting the Redshirts gathered across the road.
A mass pro-government, anti-Redshirt protest took place at Royal Plaza on Friday. But much as the Redshirts’ so-called “Million-man March” never came close to getting such numbers, Friday’s pro-government demonstration fell embarrassingly short of its hoped-for 100,000 gathering.
By 2 a.m. On Thursday night, riot police lined the Silom Road, while soldiers rested further down the road, close to the initial blasts at Sala Daeng. It was not clear whether a long-anticipated army crackdown on the Redshirts was imminent—the atmosphere on the street was mixed with tension and anticipation.
Army sources said that such a crackdown could not happen immediately, given the high numbers of women and children among the Redshirts. However, in the preceding days, senior army spokesmen had warned the Redshirts to vacate the area, raising fears that a repeat or worse of the April 10 fighting that left 25 dead and 800 wounded is possible.
The compromising talk throughout Friday seems to have at least bought some time—if not a definitive resolution—to Thailand’s increasingly intractable political acrimony.
On Friday evening, the Silom Road area was desolate, with most shops and restaurants boarded up and locked down. With the overhead and underground train stations closed, and traffic access limited due to the heavy police and military presence—not to mention the chilling impact of the previous night’s terror—the usually-bustling street was eerily empty
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