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

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid