Agam's Gecko
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Mob storms Royal Cliff
Red shirts pour into the lobby of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort hotel, venue for the ASEAN meeting in Pattaya, Thailand on April 11, 2009.
Photo: Reuters / Claro Cortes IV

upporters of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra have stormed the international press centre at the ASEAN (and its dialogue partners) summit this afternoon in the resort city of Pattaya. The government has just announced that the summit will be cancelled in the interests of safety for the foreign leaders, who had arrived as guests of the Kingdom yesterday. A state of emergency has been declared over Pattaya to ensure the safe departure of the foreign dignitaries.

After having wreaked havoc on Bangkok transportation yesterday with the blockade of major avenues, their occupation of a main hub for the city's travellers — the Victory Monument traffic circle — and an emerging dispute between some of the "red shirt" leaders, it had seemed that Thaksin's remote-controlled uprising might be losing steam yesterday.

Thaksin supporter
A Thaksin supporter brandishes a long knife in Pattaya, Thailand on April 11, 2009.
Photo: AP / David Longstreath
A clash between his supporters and local residents in Pattaya early this morning resulted in some injuries to both sides, the stranding of several foreign leaders inside their hotels, and what was then called the "postponement" of the morning ASEAN-China meeting.

After the yellow-shirted "People's Alliance for Democracy" squandered any broad public support it may have had last year with its ridiculous occupation of two airports, who would now stand up to this red-shirted "Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship" mob? Nobody in Bangkok, apparently. But the people of Pattaya had high hopes for the economic benefits from this international meeting in their city after tourism was so badly damaged by the antics of the yellow mobs in December.

Bring out the blue shirts! Is this beginning to sound stupid yet?

Democracy 'lover' with axe'
A "democracy loving" Thaksin supporter wields a long stick and a small axe for the "battle in Pattaya" to disrupt an ASEAN summit.
Photo: Reuters / Sukree Sukplang
It is claimed that the blue shirts, who made their first appearance in confronting the reds this morning, were just local Pattaya people who had vowed to protect the venues for the summit from mob disruption. The DAAD leaders (the Nation newspaper humorously translated the acronym in one story today as "Democratic Alliance Against Democracy", which may be closer to the truth) accused the blue group as actually being soldiers or military officers in disguise. The reds were armed with giant firecrackers, molotov cocktails (reportedly no molotovs were thrown), clubs, knives, and slingshots with which they fired metal bolts at the blues. Photos show the blue shirts also armed with sticks and slingshots, but they were greatly outnumbered.

While I was watching local live coverage between 12 and 1 pm, the scene showed the interior of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort hotel with a scattering of people seeming to be fleeing from something down a broad stairway from a mezzanine level to ground level. Within minutes, hundreds of the red shirted mob flowed like a great red river down the same staircase, wandering around the lobby with raised fists, waving flags, and apparently wondering "What do we do now?"

Breaking and entering
The mob crashes through the lobby window, joining hundreds already inside.
Photo: Reuters / Sukree Sukplang
Part of the glass facing of the lobby was smashed, allowing more to enter from the front. More than a thousand of these folks milled around trying to look purposeful between gleefully chatting on their mobile phones (I imagine, telling the folks back in Buri Ram or wherever, "We won!"). One pudgy fellow in a straw stetson (he's no impoverished farmer, I can tell you that) began arranging for his "press conference" in front of the official ASEAN meeting backdrop.

Arisman Pongreungrong
Arisman Pongruangrong, sans farmer's hat, declares victory in the war for Pattaya.
Photo: AP / David Longstreath
This was Arisman Pongruangrong, one of the core leaders of DAAD. He claimed that two of his red shirt taxi drivers were seriously injured in the morning fracas and that one later died. He accused elected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of "ordering" the killing, and claimed that his red people today showed their power and were "the ones who really loved democracy." He directed the mass of Thaksin supporters now occupying the hotel to disrupt all ASEAN meetings and to "hunt" for the prime minister from room to room.

While Thailand hangs its collective head in shame, its rightfully earned reputation for hospitality now shattered in the world's eyes and unable to provide a safe and conducive setting for a major regional conference, the man who pulled all the strings to bring this off from his hideout in China (or wherever he is this week) will be claiming victory. In his constant "video messages" from abroad, Thaksin demanded that his red lackeys should step up the pressure and ensure that the ASEAN meeting could not proceed. If it can be stopped, he said, it will be a great victory for them.

Thaksin supporter
This fellow seems to portray what many Thais will be thinking about him and his fellow red-shirted warriors as they consider the day's events.
Photo: AP / Wong Maye-E
Well he got his wish by causing the worldwide embarrassment of his former country. But he has pushed his ultimate aim farther from his grasp. His intention is to overthrow the current coalition government (which includes essential support from a breakaway faction of his own proxy party in parliament), to have the criminal cases against him tossed out of court, and eventually to return to the Kingdom in triumph.

It will never happen. The only way he returns to this country will be after his extradition from one of his hideouts (hopefully in handcuffs). He is a corrupt criminal on the run from justice, and having him freely able to pull strings and incite his anti-democratic mobs from afar is an intolerable situation.

The current governing coalition was formed early this year, not because of the yellow shirted "People's Alliance for Democracy" airport occupation (although they certainly claimed credit), but due to the final verdict of a longstanding legal prosecution on illegal campaign activities by Thaksin's proxy party. Thaksin's puppets resigned, and minor parties as well as a good part of the puppet party supported the Democrats to form the new government, with Khun Abhisit as prime minister.

There is nothing undemocratic about any of that. The red protesters who carry signs accusing Abhisit of being a "dictator", a "supporter of terrorists" and a "killer" just simply don't have a clue about democratic systems (or the meaning of words). They were paid to come to Bangkok, and now Pattaya, to carry out this disruption (I've been informed by someone who would know, that they each got 1000 baht per day - about $30 US). You have only one guess as to where that money came from.

If your answer involves a certain formerly richest Thai-Chinese tycoon in the country with the initials TS, you win tonight's star prize. The entire Norwich City Council! [But, I've already got one!]

Another DAAD leader, Natthawut Saikua, has declared "the war in Pattaya is over now," and that since they had "gained victory" he ordered his troops to return to Bangkok, and rejoin fellow red shirts at Government House.

They will be stoked over their successful disruption of an event that has now been cancelled twice. This is not over yet.

Breaking news pages at The Nation and at Bangkok Post. ASEAN summit photo stream from the wire-services here.

UPDATE, 9:30 pm: After such a contentious day for this country, what might be the mood out in "Thaksin country"? His base is mainly in parts of the north and north-eastern regions, where most of these red-shirts originated from. A citizen journalist in Isaan (north-east) commented on Thanong's blog at The Nation this evening, after surveying the atmosphere:
Today I drove along Khonkaen city to see how this Thaksin city show. Dont be surprised. I tried to find single a red shirt inside city. None. I made many interviews with the city people and found all of them sniffed off the red.

I wonder really which media color this city as Thaksin's red stronghold.
I don't think there are many Thais who will feel pride over what happened today. Perhaps a good portion of the red shirts, returning by bus and truck to Bangkok after their exciting victory, may pause during the trip and think about what it is they've really done. A few might even realize that they're not actually the heroes they were trying to be.

The Songkran holiday started today — the long major public holiday of the year — the Thai New Year and water festival. Attacking ASEAN was the DAAD's last ditch effort to keep things going (they mobbed PM Abhisit's SUV and smashed the window with him in it a few days ago, and crippled much of Bangkok yesterday). They needed to launch the war on Pattaya, or their troops would have all gone home already.

Between now and next Thursday every Thai wants to be in their hometown celebrating with parents, grandparents, making merit, doing the cleansing rituals, having fun. That last is very important, probably the most important. Thaksin, his cronies and their useful idiots have managed to take most of the fun out of it this time.

The state of emergency is now lifted from Pattaya and Chonburi, the foreign officials have all safely departed. Abhisit's future is, unfortunately in my view, looking doubtful. There is troubling information that both the military commander and the police commander involved in the security operation in Pattaya were nowhere to be seen when the mob stormed the building. If true, it's more of a black eye than the red dummies.

The following scene took place yesterday morning, very close to where I live (this is the Sathorn - Narathiwat junction). Some red motorcyclists and taxis attempt to close the intersection, citizens jeer at them from the walking bridge. "AWK BAI! AWK BAI!" ("GET OUT!") "MAI OW! MAI OW!" ("WE DON'T WANT YOU!")

It only takes one man to first stand up, the guy in the gray shirt pushing barricades away after motorcyclists had kicked them aside. Suddenly more men join him in admonishing the reds and trying to keep the road open. The Thaksin-loving gridlock masters flee amid a roar from the citizens.

So there was one victory yesterday in Bangkok at least.



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