LIVE: Flashpoint Pattaya
April 11, 2009 Saturday, 11:55 AM
Nirmal Ghosh reports live on the storming of the Asian summit.
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.
Tags: asean, politics, protests, thailand
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