News / Asia

Rural Anger Fuels Thailand's Red Shirts

Farm workers in a field near the city of Udon Thani in Thailand's impoverished northeast, 14 May 2010
Farm workers in a field near the city of Udon Thani in Thailand's impoverished northeast, 14 May 2010

Multimedia

Audio

Many of the red shirt protesters who have been battling the army for the past few days on the streets of Bangkok come from Thailand's poor rural hinterland.

The sandy dirt and dried-out fields of Thailand's northeast look little like the country's tourist brochures. The region, known as Isaan, is the country's poorest. It is also the stronghold of the red-shirt movement, which has brought downtown Bangkok to a halt in two months of protests that have seen repeatedly turned violent.

Many here are enthusiastic supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup. They are angry at his ouster and court cases that removed an elected Thaksin-allied government in 2008. Mr. Thaksin is a chief backer of the red shirts.

Lamoon Woratnam is a rice farmer in the village of Kumbong. He says, like most farmers here, he saw his livelihood improve under Mr. Thaksin's policies aimed at Thailand's poor.

Those policies included cheap healthcare and a low-interest village loan program that has allowed him to buy fertilizer and hire workers, increasing his income.

He says Mr. Thaksin was the first prime minister to listen to the poor here. He says the 2006 coup went against the democratic will of the people and that the current government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is afraid to even come to the northeast.

When Mr. Abhisit attempted to visit the nearby town of Nong Khai in March, angry red shirts forced him to flee by helicopter.

Red-shirt crowds in several provinces have also in recent weeks blocked roads and rail lines believed to be carrying troops and supplies to Bangkok.

Incomes in Isaan fall well below the national average and are miniscule in comparison to Bangkok, where they are protesting.

The local economy is ruled by agriculture, but the soil is infertile and much of the northeast is in the grip of a drought. For generations poor northeasterners have migrated to richer parts of Thailand or abroad to make a living in menial jobs from driving taxis to dancing in sleazy go-go bars.

Red shirt movement

But everywhere there are signs of the prosperity that arrived under Mr. Thaksin. Some farms have replaced buffalos with tractors and many houses boast new extensions and satellite dishes. Many of the pickup trucks that carry protesters to Bangkok were bought thanks to a surge in rural credit.

Jakapong Saengkum
Jakapong Saengkum

One person helping to fill those pickups is Jakapong Saengkum, a deejay on We Love Udon, a radio station in nearby Udon Thani city. The station was set up by local red shirt leader.

Jakapong says the red shirts have registered 500,000 members in Udon Thani province. His radio station keeps members informed of developments in Bangkok and runs fundraising drives to keep the city protest camp supplied. In between, he plays looktung, Thai country music popular in the region.

He says the red shirt movement has spread from the countryside into the city. He says many city officials in Udon Thani, and most police, support the red shirts.

He says every time the government tries to shut down the station, they get tip offs from the police force, allowing them to rally supporters.

Liam Moonguaklang is a former rural resident back on a visit from the United States, where she runs a Thai restaurant. She says red shirt support is so strong because Mr. Thaksin taught country people to stand up for themselves.

She points to village houses at both end of the road, where cooperative loans have helped bring the beginnings of prosperity.

"Before we not that smart. Now we know what going on, how much they cheat us, how much they want us to be slave for them," she said.

Backers of the current government argue that Mr. Thaksin had to be removed because of corruption, but that argument gets little support here.

Local red shirt supporters are also not swayed by the fact that Mr. Abhisit's government has kept many of the policies that made Thaksin popular.

In Isaan's dry countryside, many say they are angry simply because they are no longer being listened to.

And that anger is translating into street violence in Bangkok. Since the protests began two months ago, more than 30 people have died - protesters, security personnel and bystanders, and more than 1,000 injured. Since Thursday night, there have been sporadic street battles around the red-shirt camp in the middle of an upscale commercial, hotel and residential district in Bangkok.

You May Like

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Paradei
X
Anush Avetisyan
November 26, 2014 10:57 PM
Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid