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Thousands Mark Thailand Red Shirt Crackdown

  • Ron Corben

Relatives of the victims hold portraits of their loved ones during a commemorate session of a rally at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, May 19, 2012.

Relatives of the victims hold portraits of their loved ones during a commemorate session of a rally at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, May 19, 2012.

BANGKOK - Tens of thousands of pro-government “Red Shirt” supporters took to the streets of Bangkok Saturday on the second anniversary of deadly clashes between protestors and security forces that left over 90 people dead. Divisions are emerging between protestors and the government over a proposed amnesty bill that is intended to foster national reconciliation.

Buddhist monks in prayer led day-long ceremonies in central Bangkok two years after a crackdown by security forces ended weeks of rallies against the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The Red Shirt movement, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), is a key base of support for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party, which came to office last year.

Yingluck’s older brother, Thaksin, also served as prime minister until he was ousted in a 2006 coup. He remains abroad because of corruption charges brought by his political rivals.

Thida Thavornseth says the rally is a show of strength by the UDD against any political moves to undermine the new government.

“The Red Shirt came today all of them because they are waiting to fight especially what happened in Thailand like a coup d'etat and right now not just only to show the power want to tell the people of Thailand that we want justice, we want democracy, (that) we’re still the same, the same, same idea,” said Thida.

Video of Isabella Polenghi at the crackdown anniversary and file footage from 2010

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Police expected up to 50,000 Red Shirt supporters at the rally in the commercial area of Rajaprasong, the same site occupied by UDD supporters for six weeks in 2010. Several surrounding buildings were set on fire as military forces moved to end the rallies.

It was the nation's worst political violence in more than 20 years.

Suraporn, a Red Shirt supporter at the rally, blamed the Abhisit government for killing the Red Shirt protestors.

“To remember the two years already - the last government kill people," said Suraporn. "I want to (know) who kill the people, who killed the people - the Red Shirts.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a report this week, said the Yingluck government and the military have been slow to investigate the deaths. Brad Adams, Asia Director for the watchdog group, wants the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigations, or DSI, to pick up the pace.

“Only 16 cases have been forwarded from the DSI for official post mortem investigations," said Adams. "It is inexplicable there’s no good reason why they stopped at 16 except that the military clearly does not want these investigations to go forward. Our goal is to remind people about the victims of the violence and the fact that this far there has been no justice for these victims.”

Adams says the Yingluck government has failed to keep promises made during last year's election campaign to provide justice for the victims of political violence.

He also says the government needed to resist pressures to engage in whitewash and warned the current efforts to pass an amnesty law for abuses committed by government forces and armed protestors would be what he called an affront to victims who seek and deserve justice

Earlier Human Rights Watch reports accused security forces of shootings and grenade attacks against the protestors, while noting some of the violence was caused by an armed wing of the protest movement known as the "Black Shirts."

Nattaput Akahad's 25-year-old sister, Kamonkate, was fatally shot on May 19, 2010, while working as a medic on wounded protesters. He also opposes an amnesty bill, even though many believe it would open the way for Thaksin to return to Thailand.

Nattaput says the reconciliation and amnesty bill will only lead to a whitewash and provide impunity for murderers.

Nevertheless, author and commentator Chris Baker expects the parliament to press ahead with the amnesty bill and doubts anyone will be held accountable for the killings.

“At the moment, I think it’s rather unlikely (anyone will be held accountable)," said Baker. "That’s depressing. It would be nice if this was to be the first of the many of such incidents that was really cleaned up properly but I suspect it is going to be no different from any in the past. It’s going to lie there and fester.”

Despite the differences between the Red Shirts and the government, UDD leaders and analysts say the movement will remain loyal to the Yingluck administration and continue to support its other policies.
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