The Irish Times - Monday, February 14, 2011
THAILAND’S DEEP political divisions were underlined by demonstrations yesterday which featured both red and yellow-shirted protesters who staged separate protests against the government ahead of an election planned for the first half of this year.
The Red Shirts, many of whom support exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were calling for the release of 18 of their detained leaders.
Their rival Yellow Shirts want prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down over his handling of an ongoing border dispute with Cambodia.
Last year, the Red Shirts, who are largely composed of the rural poor and people from northern Thailand, Mr Thaksin’s traditional power base, occupied the central business district of Bangkok for 10 weeks until the military crushed the protest.
Ninety-one people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded. The Red Shirts are calling for a full investigation of events. Since then, 18 Red Shirt leaders have been detained. Their supporters gathered outside the criminal court yesterday to call for their release. The court is due to make a ruling on a bail appeal on February 21st.
“We are here to call for justice,” Red Shirt leader Thida Thavornseth said outside the court. “We’re not planning to break into the court. We just want to show our support to all the leaders who are still in prison.”
There are fears that turbulence could return to Thailand, bringing the possibility of more violence or even military intervention.
The Red Shirt protesters later moved their demonstration to the Democracy Monument in the city’s old quarter, just over a kilometre from a small, two-week protest held by the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy.
The Yellow Shirts, who are made up of the Bangkok elite and are staunchly monarchist, used to be allies of Mr Abhisit’s ruling Democrat Party but have turned against him in the past few months, accusing him of failing to get to grips with a long-running border dispute with Cambodia.
Four days of clashes between Thai and Cambodian forces erupted on the border early this month around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple claimed by both.
Both rallies were held despite the introduction last week of the Internal Security Act, which bans protests in main government and commercial areas.
The rallies were staged ahead of an election that Mr Abhisit has said could take place in the first half of the year if the economy recovered and if demonstrations were peaceful in the meantime.
There was a heavy riot police presence yesterday but the protests went off peacefully.