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April 14, 2009 Tuesday

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Nirmal Ghosh
Thailand Correspondent
LIVE: Flashpoint Pattaya
April 11, 2009 Saturday, 11:55 AM
Nirmal Ghosh reports live on the storming of the Asian summit.

IN PATTAYA

RED shirted pro-democracy protestors on Saturday returned in greater numbers to Pattaya, pushing their way to the summit venue for a second day by around 9.30am.

Earlier, enraged by attacks by blue-shirted pro-government thugs the previous day, in which some red shirts were hit by stones, the red shirts had called up greater numbers and scores of taxis from Bangkok overnight.

In the early morning they began marching up the hill to the Royal Cliff Resort, venue of the summit, but came face to face with a few hundred of the pro-government militia, well organized with freshly printed dark blue T-shirts saying 'Protect the Institution' – institution being the a reference to the monarchy.

 All the blue shirts were armed with sticks, clubs and iron rods.

The face-offs occurred at two locations, each with around 1,000 red shirts against about 150 blue shirts. The men in blue held pictures of the king and queen. The army’s riot control soldiers and the police held back, and for long tense moments there was nothing between the two groups.

At 0845 there were a series of small gunshot-like explosions at the scene further up the hill closer to the summit venue. There was a small cloud of white smoke from one of them. The blue shirts ran helter skelter up the hill, and the troops who had been sitting on the road rushed to form up. The blue shirts and some of us journalists scrambled through just before they closed ranks.

The blue shirted men – clearly a militia – essentially took shelter behind the army, whose officers made no attempt to disarm them. Three of them displayed superficial wounds they said had come from the bomb which they claimed had been thrown by the red shirts. The wounds were about the diameter of a dollar coin, and some were bleeding.

A senior police officer, asked who they were, told The Straits Times 'They are here to keep the peace.'

The red shirts were further enraged by the clear alignment of the pro-government militia with the army. A woman screaming through a loudhailer in English from on top of a truck, addressing herself to the few foreign journalists at the scene, said 'We love peace and democracy, we came to ask for democracy and justice but we have a group of military behind the government. We did not expect the military to be behind the blue shirts.'

'The blue shirted people are the military under the control of the dictatorial government. We do not accept this government.'

Red shirt leaders then calmed the situation down and the soldiers – 15-20 rows deep – squatted on the road. Behinbd them the blue shirts lounged in the shade, and a few tourists wandered around the scene looking apprehensive.

'We are from Chonburi' one blue shirt said – referring to the province where Pattaya is located.

According to two sources, the blue shirts had been organized by the mayor of Pattaya, who is the son of 'Kamnan Poh' – a controversial strongman of the province.

Meanwhile at the bottom of the hill, some 200 metres from this scene, about 1,000 red shirts were in a similar face-off, with the army having set up a major barrier of two water trucks and hundreds of soldiers behind them blocking the approach to the hill.

The blue shirt militia were facing off the reds, but the situation while tense and volatile, did not appear to be escalating.

However around 9.30am the army at the higher location, withdrew seemingly after making a deal with the red shirts, and allowed them to approach the hotel where they massed along with scores of taxis, held at bay by police and army soldiers behind rolls of razor wire.

The red shirts held placards condemning the Abhisit government’s 'double standards' and saying 'Thailand Needs Change'.

Their slogan shouting could be heard deep inside the hotel in the media centre.

1045 Thailand time:  More details are emerging of the events this morning. The blue shirts were apparently provoking the reds by throwing rocks at them - despite a blue shirt leader urging them to stay calm and not use violence. The reds kept advancing, and apparently (this from an eyewitness) the blues threw a couple of molotov cocktails at them. In the melee, the reds charged and threw some of the bombs back. One exploded. Another small bomb exploded giving off green smoke. There were no guns used. Many of the reds were also armed with sticks and stones. There were minor injuries on both sides.

As of now, at the bottom of the hill the two groups are separated by about 500m, following negotiations with the army.

Outside the summit venue some tourists have appeared and are jollying about with the red shirts.

I am watching TV camera footage of the clash, which is being edited in front of me in the media centre. It shows a brief but furious riot, with reds and blues hurling rocks at each other. Both sides appear to have had small bombs of some description, and plenty of sticks and clubs.

1150 hrs - The red shirts have been allowed into the lobby and are holding a press conference. They have a laptop with pictures of some injured red shirts. They have a pile of the blue T-shirts in front of them. This is a good move by the Thai authorities because it allows the reds to have their say in front of the media.

The summit is in danger of being aborted halfway through. We are waiting to see how the Thais manage to put things together again.

A military source says he would prefer that the police handle this. But there are not police in sight. It is the army which has ringed the entrance to the hotel. It is possible that the police who are sympathetic to the reds, are ''not to be trusted'' in the words of one Thai official. Unfortunately such a scenario feeds into the red narrative : sons of the soil against the army which backs the ''dictatorship'' government. It is a difficult time for many Thai officials, both in the minstry of foreign affairs and in the army.

12 noon: Govt spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn brifing now : The Asean summit has bene postponed due to reasons of safety. As of now there are efforts to move forward in holding the meetings; if we assess the situation and everything is back to normal quickly the meetings will go forward. At noon there will be meetings during the luncheon between foreign ministers and leaders and there will be consultations. After the consultations.. we will inform you.

I understand the situation, the demonstrations have eased off and the security forces insist that the situation is under control and we can move forward with the meetings in the afternoon.

It is in the interest of all countries to consult with one another. But.. safety is of the utmost importance and this will be discussed during the lunch with all the leaders of all countries and when a mutual decision is arrived at we will inform you. There may be some changes to the schedule. We will have to wait for the deliberations over lunch.

Panitan: The deputy prime minister in charge of security is running operations and is overseeing operations. Most officers here in Thailand are very concerned about the safety of people, not only the leaders, not only the delegates. They are trying to do their best in terms of adapting a flexible approach and not to confront or create tension.

12.45pm - The red shirts are storming into the hotel, the army is trying to keep them out.

12.50pm - Many more red shirts came into the front of a building in the resort - where media centre is located.

They overwhelmed the army officers who were slow to respond and they have advanced and tried to come into the lobby. The doors have been closed.

Some of the red shirts are trying to keep them from entering the lobby. This building is not the actual venue of the Asean meetings, which is in the adjacent building.

1pm - Plate-glass windows in the hotel lobby have been shattered and red shirts have stormed in.

1.15 pm - The reds have flooded through the hotel. They have calmed down a bit and are in a celebratory mood. The summit is disintegrating, it is hard to see how security can be gauranteed now. They are leaving the media centre alone so I am back here now. One of the organisers says a red shirt was killed by gunfire from the blue shirts at 9am. And two taxi drivers who tried to pick up his body were also shot at. Bloomberg has a picture of a blue shirt holding a gun.

It is actually a miracle that it wasn't worse, given the situation this morning.

But what follows in the days ahead could still be worse. Most observers - analysts, even Thai offiicials - can only see this ending badly.

Still no official word on whether the summit has been cancelled. Just unofficial word. So, yet to be confirmed.

3pm - PM Abhisit has just declared a state of emergency in Chonburi and Pattaya.  

I am suspending my blog entries now. The reds have left the building, having secured their ''victory.'' The lobby is strewn with bits of plate glass.

I have just received an SMS from a royalist People's Alliance for Democracy supporter, saying ''This is Thug-sin work of art, a masterpiece. WE ARE ON THE SIDE LINE. U'll hear of us soon.''



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Total comments: 26
Joshua
April 13, 2009 Monday

"Citizen of Pattaya", indeed, "John Bolton."
And you have it on whose authority, John Bolton? You were perhaps one of the patriotic blue-clad residents of Pattaya, who just happened to have firearms on you?
"Not a journalist of high standing?" Laughable. I think he tells it like it is. I suppose John Bolton by contrast thinks that The Nation and The Bangkok Post are paragons of journalistic integrity.

comment 3759 | Offensive? Report this comment
John Bolton
April 13, 2009 Monday

Nirmal Gosh, why are your reports one sided and untruthful? Why do you describe citizens of Pattaya wanting to prevent Thaksin's red shirts from causing chaoes to an important summit in their city "pro-government militia" ??

You are clearly not a journalist of high standing.

comment 3733 | Offensive? Report this comment
J Tanner
April 13, 2009 Monday

By juding what I see, a military coup looks likely. It's showtime for sure. Abhisit is nothing but scum. Thai politics real stinker. I would suggest that present army commander rather hypocrite and gutless. Bring back Thaksin for economy, and Ben Krapayoon to do the shooting. Thai monarcy should also say final farewell, as the people feel now it's time for change. Royals living lavish life at the expense of tazpayers monies. Yet, doing nothing but taking sides and antagonizing most situation. It's up to thats to decide their destiny.

comment 3723 | Offensive? Report this comment
Joe
April 12, 2009 Sunday

Once again the gutless good for nothing AbhiSHIT is hiding behind papa and mama and their security guards. Words are getting around here the old boys Prem & gang had forced AbhiSHIT to start the shooting party while assuring him of impunity.

comment 3721 | Offensive? Report this comment
t4e
April 12, 2009 Sunday

Seems DSTV signal is back , armored cars with soldiers appear at 50+ places in Bkk to keep an eye(also to stop more RedsHirts coming to Bangkok from outer provinces).

Red Shirts at Govt Hse seem calmer now, continue their activities as before.& still urge their supporters to come to Bkk .

News is quite restricted on other TV channels

t4e

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