Returning from Laos six weeks ago, the roads were full of Red Shirt protestors heading down to Bangkok from the rural North of Thailand. I don’t think that anybody, including myself, expected their protests to last as long as this, but clearly they have. According to the BBC World News, Bangkok is in turmoil, the City at a standstill and Civil War is about to be unleashed. I was unfortunate enough to get caught up in the Yellow Shirt protests of November 2008 and I seem to remember similar reports being broadcast back then. I do understand that in the latest protests several people have sadly lost their lives, but in a country as complex as Thailand, things are seldom as clear as they appear to the outside world.
I found the protestors encampment quite easily, probably because I knew exactly where it was. They’ve made their main base west of Sukhumvit Road between the Sky Train Stations (BTS) of Chit Lom and Siam. Strategically speaking they’ve made quite a good choice. It’s a long stretch of road, possibly a kilometre in length, and all of the side streets already have barriers in place to prevent traffic from entering. At the main intersections to the West and East, they’ve simply built barricades and have quite effectively sealed off the whole area.
To say that the City of Bangkok has been brought to s standstill is ridiculous. If this were London, then the protestors would have closed down Regent Street and life in the rest of the Capital would continue as normal. They’ve effectively closed down the Westernised Shopping Centres of Siam Paragon, Zen, Central World and Amarin Plaza. McDonalds, InterContinental Hotels, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior will not be happy, but all of the Thai businesses appear to operating as normal, so it’s probably no great loss …. mai pen rai
The barricades themselves have been made from old tyres, razor wire and sharpened bamboo poles. They sound quite flimsy, but these people are predominantly farmers from the rural North of Thailand and they certainly know a thing or two about creating something quite substantial from crap. They wouldn’t stop a Tank, but I sure as hell wouldn’t try to climb one.
The barricades are manned twenty four hours a day by teams of volunteers and I’m certain that there’s a system in place to warn of any possible threat to their position. At each barricade there are a few riot shields that seem to have been procured in battle, and hundreds of copies that they’ve quickly fashioned from old oil drums and Perspex. More menacingly, there are also sacks of palm sized rocks, sharpened bamboo steaks and hundreds of empty glass bottles.
As an outsider, I certainly hope that this protest ends through negotiation and not force, because if force is used to evict these people, then it certainly looks like they’re well prepared for a battle. It’s a battle that they would inevitably loose, but it’s frightening to think about the human cost.