The Red Shirts are back in Bangkok in bigger numbers than we have seen for a long time. This is the first rally since the new year and also since the ending of the State of Emergency. We have had a number of big rallies in Bangkok over the last 3 or 4 months but this is the biggest one that I have seen since May 2010. Crowd estimates have been put at 30,000 people but it was really difficult to estimate as they were so spread out.
The rally started at the Democracy Monument. Jatuporn Prompan, the Red Shirt leader, was forbidden by a court order to go and speak at the rally. However, he defied that order today. He not only turned up, but he gave a speech as well. That is really what made this rally so different from anything we have seen since the bloody crackdown by the army which resulted in 91 deaths. For the first time we had people giving speeches.
In this picture at the Democracy Monument, Jatuporn Prompan is paying respect to some of the dead red shirts. After a ceremony here they left to parade to Ratchaprasong, which is the heart of the shopping district in Bangkok. They went there on foot, by motorcycle and in cars and pick-ups trucks. I walked all the way from the Democracy Monument to Ratchaprasong which took me just over one hour.
This is the scene in front of the popular computer shopping mall Panthip Plaza. The parade virtually brought many roads through Bangkok toa standstill. Despite that, I witnessed many shopkeepers coming out to clap and cheer as the Reds passed them by. That is the thing, during the big rallies last year there was criticism that most of the Reds were bussed in from the poor northeastern provinces. But, the thousands that came today mainly came by their own transport. Most people were from around Bangkok and the surrounding provinces.
By the time I arrived at Ratchaprasong the whole area had already been closed off by the Red Shirts. The entire road from Pratunam to Ratchaprasong was a Sea of Red. And at that time there were still thousands more coming on the parade from the Democracy Monument. Whether you like the Red Shirts or not, this was an impressive show of unity. Their demand was simple, release on bail the red shirt leaders in prison. They cried it is unfair that the yellow shirt leaders who occupied government house and closed down the airport are still walking free.
In the evening, Jatuphon got up onto the stage to talk to the crowd. There was also a brief phone-in from former prime minister Thaksin. The parade and rally was peaceful and as far as I know no-one was hurt. The situation wasn’t dangerous at all and there were a number of foreign tourists mingling in the crowd. It is difficult to predict what will happen next. We don’t know yet if they will try another prolonged occupation of the intersection like last time. If they want I am sure they can. The next big red shirt rally is set for Sunday 23rd January 2011.