Connect to share and comment

Bamboo Battlements in the Heart of Bangkok

In recent days, Thailand's anti-government protesters -- the Red Shirts -- been prevented from expanding their territory in Bangkok by battalions of heavily armed soldiers.

Instead, this largely working-class movement to oust the ruling party has decided to double down on their core encampment around Ratchaprasong, the city's swankest shopping district.

How? By walling the perimeter with this Mad Max-esque rampart of bamboo rods...

... and fortifying it with used tires.

See the high-rise buildings peeking through the nest of sticks and flags? All this is happening within Bangkok's financial heart, where prominent banks are headquartered and many a power lunch is consumed.

Behind the bamboo wall, there's an air of gleeful irreverence. The protesters are proudly working class -- many wear T-shirts reading "Commoner!" in Thai -- and they seem to revel in the David-vs.-Goliath nature of their fight. They've even broken up bits of brick and sidewalk cement to use as projectiles in case of a military crackdown. Fireworks and paper lanterns were sent into the sky to confuse military helicopters.

Meanwhile, across the street, troops crouching behind barbed wire monitored their movements and prevented the rally from expanding.

Since the April 10 military crackdown that left 25 dead and more than 800 injured, protesters have nursed a vendetta against the government. That grudge will not fade away easily.

The roughly two square-mile protest zone is rife with manipulated photos of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that read: MURDERER! THE TYRANT KILLS THE PEOPLE. The poster includes gory photos of protesters shot dead during the recent clash. Vendors sell videos of the bloody confrontation: two CDs for less than $3.

Even though the military has shown restraint in the wake of that clash, a rival pro-establishment protest faction -- the Yellow Shirts -- are fed up with inaction and now threaten to drive out the Red Shirts themselves.

A mishmash of non-color-coded Thais have already appeared outside the bamboo ramparts, waving Thai flags and yelling in unison for the protesters to "Get Out!" One man held a sign that read "No to Red Terror!"

Violence of some kind seems a very likely outcome at this point. Shuttered hotels and businesses around the protest encampment estimate they've lost tens of millions of dollars. There is desperation and fatigue on all sides.

But in recent days, both the government and the protest leaders have hinted to news outlets that they're willing to talk. A previous, televised negotiation ended failed, but that summit took place before the loss of lives.

Even if protest leaders and government heads manage to eat their pride and make concessions, hardliners on both sides will lash out. But I suspect many rational Thais, protesters and power-lunchers alike, will be deeply relieved to see this conflict end ... if only for a little while.

 

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/thailand/100421/bamboo-battlements-the-heart-bangkok