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Tonight in Bangkok, the air is bitter. The breeze carries a stinging black smoke, pouring from flaming walls of tires and symbols of power and wealth: the Stock Exchange of Thailand, branches of prominent banks and Central World, Asia's second-largest mall.
For 10 weeks, many in Bangkok have ached for a return to normalcy as anti-government "Red Shirt" protesters paralyzed parts of the Thai capital. Today, its leadership nervously surrendered while scrambling to avoid sniper fire from on stage. Their nearly two-square mile encampment was overrun and dismantled by soldiers.
It was the day protesters' detractors had dreamed of. But the scenario unfolding is something of a nightmare.
The movement's guiding leadership, though prone to provocative rhetoric, is at least capable of articulating Thailand's class frustrations. The mix of parliamentarians, activists and former government figureheads, has had enough clout to negotiate with the government.
On their good days, the best among them have been able to illuminate legitimate grievances against Thailand's power structure and assume the moral high ground. It must be understood that, despite the movement's provocative nature, nearly 70 have died here since the rallies began — and protesters account for most of the dead.
But the men (and, yes, women) are torching Bangkok defiantly — defying not only the "aristocracy" they despise but their own movement's own leadership, which has asked the Red Shirt faithful to peacefully return home.
This is no longer a protest. It's a rebellion. And it has no leader, at least not one that can be seen. How do you negotiate with a faceless mob?
It's worth mentioning that, in the hours after the Red Shirts' camp was dismantled, I received an email from a Red Shirt splinter group — "Red Siam" — that's known for their more hardline anti-establishment position.
"We declare that any attempt of 'democratic reform' has now ended," wrote Jakrapob Penkair, a figurehead living in exile after facing criminal charges for last year's Red Shirt protests. "From today, we begin the journey of democratic revolution of Thailand until we achieve one."
Now, on a personal note, I am writing this from my girlfriend's aunt's home on Bangkok's outskirts. The conflict has slowly worked its way into my neighborhood and, today, power outages and riots convinced me to evacuate my centrally located apartment. (More than anything else, I need electricity to do my job.)
So close were the riots that I stopped watching Thai TV and started focusing on the chaos outside my balcony. This is what I saw — men in surgical masks and black hoods torching Thailand's Stock Exchange.
Tonight, most of Bangkok is frozen in place by a curfew.
The only movement outside will be arsonists/rebels/etc. and soldiers attempting to stop them. With even the Red Shirt leadership in favor of ceased street unrest, it appears that Bangkok is suffering the wrath of a faceless fringe.