It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood – William Shakespeare

A full bottle. Red shirts fill up before heading to Government House, where they will spill their blood (Photo: Simon Roughneen©)

What was supposed to be a peaceful political rally turned violent earlier on Monday. 3 Thai Army personnel were injured by 4 M79 grenades fired at camp on the outskirts of Bangkok, though no political motive has been ascribed yet.

Meanwhile, further up the protest site, I stood on a footbridge overlooking Red shirt leaders telling the Thai Government that the demonstrators will spill their blood tomorrow – a gesture to seek the dissolution of the current Government, which they regard as illegitimate. To be more precise, they told several dozen Thai special forces, who stood steadfast as the Red shirt leaders spoke right outside the gate. At one point, the Red shirts issued the soldiers a 15 minute deadline to open the gate into the barracks, which was then extended twice, before the demonstrators called it a day and made the 20km journey back into Bangkok, where they hope to remain for the rest of the week.

There will be be blood, event though the red shirts have pledged a peaceful demonstration. However, they do not intend a World War I-style ‘blood sacrifice’ by hurling themselves in some suicidal assault on the Thai security forces. Starting at 8am Thailand time, some of the estimated 100000+ protestors will give blood to a 1000-liter ‘donation’, which the Reds intend to throw all over Government House on Tuesday, if the current administration refuses accede to their demands.

The pledge may have unnerved others outside Thailand. US Asst Secretary of State for East Asia, Kurt M Campbell, was due in Bangkok Tuesday morning, to give a lecture on US-Thai relations, before fielding questions (presumably) on the upcoming Obama visit to Indonesia, the Obama administration’s tepid response to the outrageously Kafka-esque electoral laws announced by the Burmese junta, and of course, the latest round protests in Thailand.

The Government is refusing to budge, conceding that it will listen to the demonstrators demands, and so long as the demonstration is peaceful, will not use force against it. Thailand has seen ten successful coups since the absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932 – the last being a bloodless putsch in 2006, ousting the Red shirts icon Thaksin Shinawatra, a former media mogul who last over US$1.5billion last month when the Thai courts found him guilty in absentia of corruption charges while in office.

How long can the Red shirts keep going? On Monday morning, I hitched a ride with the demonstrators from central Bangkok, where the Reds have been gathering since Friday night, to the Army barracks where the PM is holed-up. “I haven’t slept properly in 4 nights, and haven’t washed for 5 days”, said Naran, a 63 year farmer from the Isaan region in the north-east, who nonetheless was up and on the road early Monday morning to get to the army barracks.

Temperatures reach the mid-30s by mid-morning, and hold at that ’til well into the evening, so the demonstrators might soon get fatigued even if they are used to the hot sun on their farms. “I have just this set of clothes with me”, added Chanchai, who clung to a Thai flag festooned across the back of the Toyota pick-up, all the way out to the army barracks. Many of Thaksin’s Red shirt supporters are from rural areas, and he remains popular, but divisive, across Thailand.

Until today’s blood pledge and grenade attack, the high political stakes had been belied somewhat by what has been a carnival atmosphere so far. Though some of the rhetoric from the Red shirt leaders has been as spicy as the Thai snacks being cooked all along Bangkok’s Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Not least that used by Thaksin Shinawatra when he phoned in to the rally late Sunday evening – possibly from Switzerland or Montnegro – calling the current PM Abhisit Vejajjiva “a child”, according to a translation given to me by a Thai colleague, and adding that the Reds were there to protest the anti-democratic way Thailand is run. He told them to keep it peaceful, but as the poet put it, will blood lead to blood?

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