Violence In Bangkok: Crisis In The Land Of Smiles
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The U.S. government is warning its citizens to avoid going to Bangkok, after three days of fighting between Thai security forces and demonstrators who are demanding the government's ouster. The red shirts, as the demonstrators are called, say the current government came to power illegally. A deal seemed at hand earlier this week, then died, and with it any hopes of an immediate solution to the political crisis.
NPR's Michael Sullivan is in Bangkok. Michael, thanks for being with us.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: And what's it like there today?
SULLIVAN: Depends entirely where you are. I mean, there's parts of the city that seem completely normal, if a little tense, but then you go just a mile or so away, close to where the violence and it's like you're in a ghost town. I mean, there's large chunks of the city - Silom, Sathorn, Wireless Road -there's nobody on the streets. No traffic. All the shops and businesses locked up, nothing going on. The subway, the sky train all shut down, and people are nervous.
SIMON: Now, demonstrations have been going on for a couple of months and one obvious exception, they've been mostly peaceful until the past few days. So, what set things off?
SULLIVAN: I think a couple of things happened. I mean, one, the government obviously made up its mind what it was going to do and when, and the protestors knew it and were ready for it. And, two, there was this attempted assassination of the protestors' self-proclaimed security chief on Thursday night. He's not expected to survive, and I think that only added fuel to the fire.
And now, the state of emergency that's in effect here has been extended to 17 provinces to help to keep the red shirt reinforcements from the provinces from coming to the city. The military today declared a neighborhood near the site a live fire zone in a bid to keep the red shirts from using it as a way into the site. We got ourselves a siege going on here.
SIMON: And is any chance of negotiated settlement passed?
SULLIVAN: It's hard to see how one could happen. I mean, we seemed close at the beginning of the week, as you said, then it unraveled kind of quickly with infighting among the red shirts about the timing of the new elections. And Prime Minister Abhisit and the military at this point I think just said, enough is enough. We're losing lots of business in the shopping area. We're losing tourist revenue and we're losing face every day these protestors remain.
And I think the government line is, we gave them a chance, we agreed to early elections, though maybe not as early as the red shirts wanted, and it wasn't enough.
SIMON: And if the government does manage to dislodge, to use a delicate term, the protestors, is that the end of it?
SULLIVAN: No, because there really is this deep polarization in the Thai society right now between the haves and the have-nots, between the traditional ruling elite that's represented by the current government and the rural and urban poor, a majority that's long been neglected by that elite, which got a taste of electoral power under the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, the guy the military got rid of in 2006. They said he was corrupt. They may be right, but it doesn't really matter. He was elected twice by this rural majority.
He paid attention to them, Scott. They got used to it, and they're not going back to the farm. They've got cell phones, they've got satellites, they've got Internet, they're organized, there are a lot of them, and Thaksin, love him or hate him, was the one who let the genie out of the bottle.
SIMON: NPR's Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Thanks so much.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Scott.
SIMON: This is NPR News.
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