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Bracing for bloodshed in Bangkok

Since relocating to Thailand 10 months ago, I've lived here under three different prime ministers — all because of ongoing, back-and-forth protest movements. If this raucous crowd gets its way, I'll soon see my fourth.

More than 100,000 protesters — many from Thailand's poor upcountry — have amassed in Bangkok. This is a tremendous show of force for Thailand's "red shirt" opposition movement, which is campaigning to drive out the current ruling party — which is backed by old money and establishment powers.

This is a blog entry, not a master's thesis, so I don't have time to explain the granular nuances and dizzying forces driving this conflict. I love Thailand, and I follow Thai politics religiously, and it actually pains me to reduce this whole drama down to "upcountry protesters" vs. "establishment forces."

Just know that, in the next few days, I believe Bangkok will quite likely see political violence.

I've spent hours at the ongoing rally seen above, which has totally choked the Thai prime minister's compound. And, in the red shirt leaders' tent there, I've been hearing promises of rather dramatic action.

Not only was this off the record, but not very clear either, so I have to be vague.

But I can say this: I think the red shirts have been looking for crowds large enough to overwhelm the military. Is 100,000 enough? Probably. I was told not to show up tonight before having a heart-to-heart with my loved ones ... and finding some goggles to see through the tear gas. Great.

The crowd is in high spirits, but thirsty for a confrontation and they will not leave empty handed. The sense of urgency is overwhelming.

As I type this, taxi drivers, who largely hail from rural Thailand, have blocked one of Bangkok's busiest traffic circles with their cabs. I just received a text message from the red shirts that mobs are pushing towards Thailand's state-owned TV station.

I'm not sure how this ends. But I suspect that, before it's all over, someone will be hurt or killed. I hope I'm wrong.

UPDATE: Thursday night passed without bloodshed. Outside of blocking roads, and making Bangkok's traffic even more insufferable than normal, the red shirts staged no major "shock and awe" offensive last night.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva flew by helicopter to an emergency security meeting with military leaders in Bangkok. He also broadcast a live address/warning on all TV stations, essentially urging protesters who don't have the heart for jail or military intervention to go home so the rest can be dealt with.

Many protesters appear to be going home at night to regroup. At least I know now where my neighborhood stands. Around midnight, I saw droves of red shirts pouring out of the nearest train station to head back home.

We're coming up on the five-day Songkran holiday here in Thailand. Thaksin Shinawatra, red shirt leader and deposed ex-premier, has promised a big showdown for the holidays.

A 30-year-old business owner and red shirt supporter, Nuttawun Puntuwong, told me that protesters are just waiting for cues from their leaders. "It's up to the leaders to instruct us. If they want us to push on, we'll push on. If they want us to go home, we'll go home."

P.S. If all this sounds a little too apocalyptic, keep in mind that these rallies are also major excuses to party. Check out these photos, shot by a well-known blogger here in Bangkok. Does this look like a people's uprising... or spring break?