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Thai Government Again Besieged by Protesters

A supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy, or the Yellow Shirts, waves clapping tool during the demonstration outside the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, January 26, 2011.

A supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy, or the Yellow Shirts, waves clapping tool during the demonstration outside the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, January 26, 2011.

The Thai government is under increasing pressure from thousands of street protesters. Red-dressed anti-government protesters are holding monthly demonstrations to express anger at last year’s bloody crackdown. And now yellow-dressed protesters have surrounded the seat of government, demanding tough action against Cambodia over a border dispute.

Thailand’s Red Shirts are back on the streets of Bangkok, holding monthly demonstrations.

They want justice for the 90 people killed last May, most of them civilians, when the government ordered the military to end their occupation of a Bangkok commercial area.

Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan says they also want their leaders, now facing terrorism charges, to be released.

He says they do not know when the leaders will be granted bail, so people outside must show their power through peaceful means to show that those who are behind bars do have friends. Jatuporn says everybody asks for them to be released and sees that they have not received justice.

And, as if the Red Shirts were not enough to contend with, now the government’s former supporters, the Yellow Shirts, are on the streets, but not in its defense.

At least 2,000 yellow-dressed protesters surrounded the seat of government this week and say they will stay until it gets tough with Cambodia over a border dispute. These mass protests are becoming almost routine.

In 2008, the Yellow Shirts besieged this same area for weeks, and shut down Bangkok’s two airports, helping to push out two governments aligned with the Red Shirts.

And thousands of Reds blockaded an upscale shopping and tourist area for about two months last year.

The nationalist Yellow Shirts want the government to revoke a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia on the border and expel Cambodians from areas Thailand claims.

“We had so many negotiations, forums, with the government. For one and two years already. Nothing happened,” Parnthep Pourpongpan, spokesman for the Yellow Shirts said. “So, that’s why we protest.”

The Yellow Shirts want the government to stop cooperating with the United Nations cultural body over the ancient Preah Vihear temple near disputed territory.

The government rejected their demands, saying they would only lead to conflict with Cambodia.

The Yellow Shirts are setting up for a long fight, erecting stages for speeches and setting up tents for shelter.

Protester Phudit Dolpipat set up his tent on a sidewalk near the main stage. He owns a restaurant in northeast Thailand but says he will not leave Bangkok until the protesters’ demands are met.

The Preah Vihear Temple belongs to Cambodia according to the World Court, but the area around Preah Vihear, he says, is Thai territory. He says they are going to lose this area so that is why he joined the rally.

Despite their shared anger at the government, there is no chance of the Yellow and Red Shirts teaming up.

Yellow Shirt protests in 2006 ended after a military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Most Yellow Shirts consider him to be corrupt and authoritarian. Mr. Thaksin lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

Most of the Red Shirts, however, support Mr. Thaksin. They also consider the current government is illegitimate, saying it came to power with military support after two elected governments led Mr. Thaksin’s allies were removed by court orders.