I have already started to receive letters asking about the political situation in Bangkok. The questions often go like this: “I’m coming to Thailand on holiday in a few weeks. Will there be any problems with the rallies?” As always, questions like these are very difficult to answer. I cannot predict the future. However, we can make educated guesses based on what is happening now and what we have seen in the past. The short answer is “Yes, Thailand is safe to come for your annual holiday.” However, you do need to be aware of the situation and to keep yourself updated.
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At the moment, we have regular mass rallies by the Red Shirts. They have been coming together at two main locations so far. Ratchaprasong Intersection and the Democracy Monument. Although their numbers have been in the thousands and they usually close down roads, they have been dispersing quietly at the end of the day. However, that is not the case with the Yellow Shirts and the Thai Patriots Network who are occupying two roads around Government House. The map above shows their location.
I was there on Sunday morning when I took these pictures. The Thai Patriots Network (TPN) are occupying the northern side of Government House along Phitsanulok Road. The Yellow Shirts (PAD) have occupied a short stretch of Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue. It was difficult for me to judge the numbers as they were spread out a lot. But, at the time I was there, I would say that there were only half a dozen in front of the TPN stage and less than 300 at the PAD stage. However, in the evenings these numbers have swollen to several thousand.
One thing you can say about the PAD and the TPN is that they are very organized. Within a short time they had set up a permanent stage, kitchen tents, toilet blocks and first aid center and also netting over the entire length of road to shade them from the sun. They have certainly dug in and seem to be planning a long rally. They also don’t seem to be short of donations as the MC on stage often goes through the names of people who have donated.
We shouldn’t forget that the Yellow Shirts were the same people that back in 2008 occupied Government House for many months. They also occupied Bangkok’s two international airports for a week which left many foreign tourists stranded. Their leaders haven’t ruled out the possibility that they would occupy Government House again. Up to this point the Red Shirts haven’t occupied anywhere overnight since the crackdown in May 2010. As the Yellow Shirts occupied the area around Government House so easily, we now might see the Red Shirts doing something similar. Unlike the Yellow Shirts, they certainly have the numbers to do this.
During the Red Shirt Rallies last year between about March and May we only had one group on the streets. This year is different as we now have two groups who seemingly have the same intention of bringing down the government. However, with the Yellow Shirts, their dispute is more with Cambodia and is about the border dispute. Their beef with the government is about their mishandling of the affair. They think Abhisit has sold the country out. The Red Shirts just want justice for their leaders and an end to double standards.
I don’t think this is going to end any time soon. The Red Shirt leaders have been in prison without bail since the crackdown in May last year. The Yellow Shirts who occupied Government House and the airports walked free. Their next big rally will be on 13th February 2011 outside the Criminal Court on Ratchada Road. They will then move to the Democracy Monument. Today the Yellow Shirts received some bad news that will probably bring more people to the rally site over the next few days. One of their leaders, Veera, has just been sentenced to 8 years in prison in Cambodia for espionage. The Yellow Shirts tonight are obviously very angry.
I am not going to say that we won’t have any troubles this year. However, I will say that protests and rallies in Thailand are often very calm and relaxed. Almost like a temple fair at times. However, there have been times when an unseen hand came out to make trouble for both sides. That is what is unpredictable and what we have to watch out for. We also have to watch for when the army occupy the streets. When that happens then that is when Bangkok is dangerous again. In the meantime, stay up-to-date with current affairs. You can follow me on Twitter for breaking news or post your questions and concerns as comments here. Also check out my Map of the Red and Yellow Protest Sites in Bangkok. At least you will know which areas to avoid.
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