A few thousand anti-establishment red-shirt supporters gathered at Ratchaprasong intersection, a commercial district of Bangkok, to protest against the controversial blanket amnesty draft bill and show support for the ruling Pheu Thai government.
Most of the red shirts came with mixed feelings and thoughts. Most of the placards expressed their anger toward the military crackdown on red protesters in 2010, while many said they forgave Pheu Thai and will still vote for Pheu Thai in the next general election even though Pheu Thai had made a bold move to push a blanket amnesty bill.
In early November, the Lower House hastily and inappropriately passed the second and third readings of the bill. The bill aimed to grant amnesty to all sides in the Thai political conflict, including self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, red shirts jailed during 2010 demonstrations, leaders of the red-shirt and pro-establishment yellow-shirt camps, and those responsible for the deaths of 92 killed during 2010 protests. The bill was passed at 4 a.m. in the absence of opposition MPs.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a television address on Wednesday that the government would not go against people’s feelings and would heed people’s advice on the amnesty issue after several anti-Thaksin groups had organized anti-amnesty protests. The protests, however, continued and are likely to escalate into anti-government protests.
The amnesty bill is now before the Upper House.
The gathering officially started at noon when a poem mourning the deaths of the red shirts was read, followed by a speech by Sombat Boonngamanong, a prominent red-shirt figure, who organized the event.
“People died here” and “The bastard ordered the killing” shouted the protesters. The two phrases have been shouted repeatedly at the intersection at every commemoration. Meanwhile, photos of former Democrat Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva and former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsban, who were accused of murdering the red-shirts during the crackdown, were displayed to be condemned.
“I came to join the protest today to protest against the amnesty bill and to show that red shirts still support the government at a time when the opposition is trying to overthrow the government,” said Vilaiwan Tungsakul, a 57-year-old retiree. She also held a placard reading “Don’t set the murderers free.” She added that she was at first disappointed with the Pheu Thai party, but as the party later changed its position toward the blanket amnesty, she applauded its decision.
“I must come to this gathering to protect the government whom I voted for,” said 55-year-old businessman Somchai whose surname was withheld because of privacy concerns. He said although many red shirts were not satisfied with the government’s move, he could understand the reasons behind it. Nevertheless, he insisted that he opposed the blanket amnesty.
Red shirt protestors lying on Ratchaprasong intersection resembling deaths from 2010 political violence
Saowaros Songcharoen, a 62-year-old businesswoman from central Ayutthaya province, said she definitely opposed the blanket amnesty. Asked if she was disappointed with Pheu Thai, she said she was not disappointed and she would still vote for the party in the next election. “no matter what Pheu Thai mutates to, we will vote for them,” insisted Saowaros.
Sombat urged Yingluck to apologize to the red shirts for the government’s mistake in going against their will and also urged Abhisit to apologize for ordering the crackdown. “Apologies are the minimum that we expect,” said Sombat, who said he urged the Senate to deliberate the bill and amend the draft bill to cover only political prisoners as in the original draft, which passed the first reading.
He also proposed that a group of judges, who issued a statement declaring their opposition to the amnesty bill, do a rethink about lèse majesté prisoners as political prisoners and give them the right to bail.
Thida Thavornseth, chairwoman of the United Front for Democracy (UDD), a Pheu Thai affiliated red-shirt faction, and Khattiya Sawasdiphol, Pheu Thai MP and daughter of a prominent red-shirt figure who was assassinated, also showed up to give moral support to Sombat.
Under strong sunlight, the protesters started to disperse around one p.m. Many of them carpooled to the UDD-organized gathering in the evening at Muang Thong Thani in the north of Bangkok.
Suluck Lamubol contributed to this report