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June 03, 2013

Thai Protesters Latest to Don 'Guy Fawkes' Masks

by Daniel Schearf

Protesters in Thailand have become the latest to wear stylized Guy Fawkes masks made popular in the 2005 Hollywood film V for Vendetta.  The mask has been used in protests around the world against alleged abuse of power.  But in Thailand's color-coded politics, it is not just the anti-government demonstrators who have taken up the mask. 

Hundreds of protesters on Sunday marched through Bangkok's central shopping district. The demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Protests against the government are nothing new in Thailand, where critics accuse the prime minister of being a puppet of her brother.  And, by Thai standards in recent years, this one was quite small.

​​But for the first time, anti-government demonstrators wore a symbol of protest being used internationally, the white stylized mask of Guy Fawkes.

The British conspirator was arrested in 1605 for a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, assassinate the King and replace the monarch with a Catholic.

The dramatic, opera-like mask was popularized in the Hollywood film V for Vendetta and has black eyebrows, a Van Dyke style beard, rosy cheeks and a smile.

Protester Wara Naranong says the masks were a show of peaceful unity against Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters, known as the Red Shirts for the color they wear.

"He asked everybody, the Red Shirts, to burn our country.  You know, and he… they not respect our king," said Wara Naranong.

She was speaking to VOA outside of a department store that was gutted by arson during 2010 Red Shirt demonstrations.

​​​The Red Shirts occupied Bangkok's shopping district for two months demanding new elections after politicized court rulings removed pro-Thaksin governments from power. 

Soldiers sent in to end the stand-off clashed with armed elements among protesters, leaving 90 people dead, most of them civilians.

Thaksin was twice popularly elected but overthrown in a 2006 military coup. He fled into exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction. 

Royalists claim he was disloyal to Thailand's revered monarchy.  His supporters say elites in Bangkok feared his growing popularity.

Later Sunday, a smaller group of government supporters also rallied in the shopping district.  But instead of just red shirts some of the 20 or so demonstrators also wore stylized Guy Fawkes masks, made of paper and, of course, painted red.

Red Shirt protester Nopporn Narnchaingtai says they want Thailand to be a real democracy where election results are honored.

"Because we vote for the governments and then some… some people in behind [the scenes].  They always should back the power of the people.  They not respect what the people want.  So, today we call for democracy," said Nopporn Narnchaingtai.

Thailand has had 18 coups or attempted coups since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Since the one in 2006, the country has been split between staunch supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra and his opponents, known as the Yellow Shirts for the color they usually wear.

Origin of the mask

The stylized Guy Fawkes mask was designed by comic book artist David Lloyd for the story V for Vendetta before it became a film.

It was about a lone hero who takes up the image of Fawkes to fight against a fictional, fascist British government of the future.

The mask was first used in protest by Anonymous, a group of activist computer hackers, in 2008 against the Church of Scientology. 

They have since been worn by demonstrators in Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the United States.

In the United States, the mask became a symbol of the Occupy Wall Street protest.  It also featured during the so-called Arab Spring democracy uprisings.

In February, the Kingdom of Bahrain banned the import of the mask, apparently out of fear they would be taken up by anti-government protesters there ,as well.