Talk About EXTREMIST!

Thai Protesters Spill Own Blood

A political protest in Thailand turned into a blood feud Tuesday, as thousands of demonstrators gathered in Bangkok and poured litres of their own blood on the pavement outside the prime minister’s office.

The shock value of the event won headlines and TV time across the world, but few results in the Thai capital, where the “Red Shirt” movement is demanding new elections to unseat Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party, which was installed after a 2008 coup.

The 100,000-strong crowd was making a dramatic gesture of support for exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption and ousted by an earlier 2006 military coup. The recent protests began after a court decision to confiscate a large part of his wealth.

However Abhisit rejected calls for a new election, while the protesters refused to back down, and growing numbers lined up to have more blood drawn by nurses.

“It’s marvellous political theatre, but it has deep emotional significance,” explained Charles Keyes, an emeritus professor of anthropology and Asian studies at University of Washington.

But Keyes, who has studied Thailand for 50 years, said the demonstration appeared to be going nowhere in the country’s bafflingly complex political landscape.

Thaksin calls himself a “symbol of those bullied by the elite who do not care about democracy and justice,” but during his two terms in power, starting in 2001, was widely criticized for brutal anti-drug and anti-insurgent crackdowns in which more than 2,000 people died. His family business dealings raised eyebrows, and eventually corruption charges.

The division between Thailand’s city elites and their rural “disenfranchised” opponents is also blurred.

Many villagers now work in Bangkok or offshore in Singapore, Taiwan and the Gulf states, although they may identify with their peasant roots. Their lifestyle is increasingly middle class.

And, Keyes said, “Thaksin was a police officer, and has close connections with the higher (police) echelons.” Although the senior military are anti-Thaksin, ordinary soldiers are from rural areas where many sympathize with him.

That may be one reason for the restraint shown by the government and military during the protests so far. On Tuesday, riot police stood by while protest leaders poured blood at the front gates of the prime minister’s office. Masked and gloved health workers later cleaned it up.

The demonstrations are unlikely to bring Thaksin back to power, said Keyes.

But if neither side escalates to violence, the standoff may lead to a compromise.

News from The Star.

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