I received an email from a couple of Volunteer and Study Abroad programs this past week. The letter stated that all travel plans for Thailand have been canceled due to political unrest and violence in Bangkok. Although this piece of news does not have any direct link to women’s rights (that I could find anyway) I decided to do some research- and this is what I found.
BANGKOK — A bloody crackdown in Bangkok by the Thai military set off rioting and arson attacks on Wednesday in several places across Thailand, threatening to expand unrest and further aggravate the deep rifts that have hobbled Thai society for the past four years.
Troops and armored military vehicles overcame grenade-wielding militants allied with antigovernment protesters in Bangkok, forcing the movement’s leaders to turn themselves in to the police.
But even as the government declared victory in quashing a debilitating protest that had shut down parts of Bangkok for two months, the rampage across Bangkok and in at least three provinces in the country’s populous northeastern hinterland raised concerns about the conflict’s spreading and the future of the current government.
The government declared a curfew in 24 of the country’s 76 provinces, a radical move underlined by its announcement that looters or arsonists would be shot.
Arsonists in Bangkok set fire to almost 30 buildings, the government said, including the country’s stock exchange, a massive shopping mall, two banks, a movie theater and a television station. Two city halls were set on fire in the provincial capitals when thousands of protesters reacted to news of the Bangkok crackdown.
It was a measure of Thailand’s spiraling political violence that the death toll in the crackdown — about 12 people killed and more than 60 injured — was less than the bloodbath that many had feared.
Central Bangkok, the heart of one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities, was a militarized zone in the early hours of Thursday, with well-armed troops patrolling streets deserted by the curfew. The subway system remained shut, and embassies told their citizens living across this sprawling metropolis of about 15 million people to stay indoors.
On Thursday morning, more than 24 hours after the crackdown began, thousands of terrified protesters filed out of a Buddhist temple next to the gutted shopping mall after the police negotiated their departure. The bodies of six protesters killed in the clashes were lined up on the temple grounds.
The leaders of the red shirts, who had roared into Bangkok on March 12 demanding news elections and calling for what they said was true democracy for the country, surrendered to the police on Wednesday afternoon to face charges of terrorism.
Their arrests and the dispersal of the crowd were rare victories for the embattled government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. But the volatile, defiant mood of the crowd on Wednesday also signaled a possible radicalization of a movement that leaders found difficult to control.
“We cannot resist against these savages anymore,” Jatuporn Prompan, one of the leaders, said on a stage inside the protest zone before turning himself in. He was booed by protesters who wanted to carry on.
“Please listen to me!” he pleaded to the crowd. “Brothers and sisters, I will use the word ‘beg.’ I beg you. We have to end this for now.” The call was not heeded, and protesters began setting nearby buildings ablaze.
On many days during the two months of protests, Mr. Jatuporn had worn a T-shirt with an image of Gandhi. But the resistance put up by some militants among the protesters was anything but nonviolent on Wednesday.
Soldiers assaulting the upscale neighborhood where protesters had been gathered were repelled with grenades. One soldier said militants were firing the weapons from the high floors of apartment buildings in the area.
The crackdown began Wednesday morning after weeks of negotiations failed to disperse protesters, many of whom are followers of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup. Soldiers clashed with militants, some of whom were armed with assault weapons. As troops approached, anxiety spread through the protest zone, which was in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Bangkok and home to many corporate headquarters, high-end shopping malls, luxury hotels and high-rise apartment buildings.
Thai news outlets reported that one of the more militant protest leaders, Arisman Pongruengrong, who is also a popular singer, fled the protest zone in disguise. Mr. Arisman made headlines last month when he evaded arrest by climbing from a window as the police raided the hotel where he was staying. He was captured Wednesday evening by the police and taken to a military base outside Bangkok.
Around noon, seven protest leaders announced that they would turn themselves in.
But they left on an uncompromising note. Standing on a stage amid the chaos, just before giving up, one of the leaders, Nattawut Saikua, shouted: “If the prime minister wants to govern the country on the top of this wreckage, he should go ahead and kill us all. But if he wants to do the right thing, he should stop the shooting immediately.”
Soon afterward, the shooting intensified. Soldiers surged and retreated at the booming of grenades. Two protesters were killed, and several journalists were shot or wounded by shrapnel. An Italian news photographer was killed, according to Thai news media, and two foreign journalists and one Thai photographer were wounded.
One Western journalist was carried away on a stretcher from the chaotic protest area.
“Keep breathing! Keep breathing,” yelled a man running next to the journalist, who appeared critically wounded.
The soldiers stopped their advance, but protesters ran anyway, leaving behind a scattered trail of personal items: slippers, pots of boiling soup, laundry on clotheslines. They fled so suddenly that the large generators that had powered the sound system and lights for the round-the-clock speeches were still running.
Protesters set fire to Central World, one of the largest department stores in Southeast Asia. On Thursday morning the mall was a blackened, smoldering skeleton. Some people in the area carried boxes of cellphones and other electronics, presumably from the mall.
Looting was also reported in other parts of the city. Protesters attacked several news outlets, which they accused of bias, forcing one television station off the air.
The government has accused Mr. Thaksin, the former prime minister, of financing the protest movement, which began as a reaction to his removal in the 2006 coup, but developed into a broader social movement seeking greater income equality and reducing the role of the country’s powerful military in politics.
One protester who fled said she felt let down by the leaders of the movement. “Everyone feels that our leaders betrayed us,” said Wanpamas Boonpun, 39. “We want democracy. True democracy, free democracy. Why is it so hard, why?”
On television, the government sought to calm the situation, broadcasting a music video with images of Thai flags, rice paddies and the country’s king. “We have to love each other,” went the lyrics to the pop song. “We want to see Thais loving each other again, just like we used to.”
Information found here via New York Times.
Now, even after reading this it is still not clear to me why the people of Thailand are protesting. I researched further and came across a helpful site with clear answers to my question.
“Sunday’s fighting came after the Thai government rejected an offer of more talks with the Red Shirt protesters, who demand new elections. Instead, the government said the Red Shirts had until Monday afternoon to clear all women and children out of the protest site.”
“…They say the government is unelected and illegitimate, backed by the military, and only serves the elite. They want new elections now.”
Information found here.