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Reds try to come to terms with bloodshed

Lack of sympathy for calls for justice, democracy still evident

One year on, tens of thousands of red shirts converged at Ratchaprasong Intersection yesterday to commemorate the end of the bloody military confrontation with the reds. Many are still grappling with how the government managed to get away with the crackdowns that began on April 10 and ended on May 19, leaving a combined death toll of 92 from both sides - but mostly red shirts - and more than a thousand injuries.

Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, leader of the Red Sunday group, said he thought it was because of the lack of sympathy from a majority of the middle class.

This "strategic blunder" in not trying to win the hearts of the Bangkok middle class, said Sombat, led to the latter giving the government "a licence to kill" red shirts in the heart of Bangkok.

Right after May 19 last year, a few thousand Bangkokians also volunteered to clean up the mess at Ratchaprasong, "as if we were some kind of germs that need to wiped out", Sombat said.

Things may not have changed much.

Some newspapers yesterday were apparently more concerned about how much the re-gathering of reds would cost the community.

Post Today stated in its editorial that businesses in the area would lose Bt7 million from yesterday's day-long gathering alone. The newspaper happens to be published by the Central Group, which owns the Zen and CentralWorld department stores that were burned down exactly a year ago, by still-unknown arsonists, as the reds were dispersed,

There was no mention of the deaths or injuries, or the fact that nobody has been brought to justice, in that editorial, which concluded by asking red shirts: "How much more national destruction would you like to cause?"

Red shirt Suwit Lertkraimaethee, a key member of June 24 for Democracy, whose leader Somyos Phrueksakasemsuk is now in jail waiting to fight lese majeste charges, said the bloody crackdown last year would not have been possible without the government's "allegation" that red shirts were out to overthrow the monarchy.

Suwit said there was a need to keep the institution of the monarchy away from political abuse. The campaign to amend lese majeste law was now being carried out by increasing numbers of red shirts who feel it is having a direct impact on political speech.

The gathering yesterday saw some carrying placards opposing the lese majeste law while others wore anti-lese-majeste-law buttons on their T-shirts or jackets.

None of the red shirts interviewed expected the masterminds they believed were behind the order to shoot and kill would be brought to justice any time soon - if ever.

"As long as Thailand is not a true democracy, red shirts will have to prepare their hearts for disappointment even if they know who did it," Suwit concluded.

None would dare to offer on the record who they believed were the masterminds - but they said it was not just the military or the prime minister, but "the invisible hands".

"They're bastards," said a red-shirt woman who asked to be referred to simply as Puk Luk. "I must be careful what I say. We could even be wronged simply by exhaling our breath."



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