12 July 2014
Violence again has struck a PDRC protest site, though it appears that for the first time in many months of protest, no external attack was involved.
The trouble this time occurred at the Asoke site where the 27 remaining protesters had divided opinions concerning the BMA’s plans for a flyover. Strong words escalated into fisticuffs and makeshift weapons were wielded in the form of flagpoles used as spears. One middle-aged female protester was reportedly garrotted with her own whistle strap.
Concerned at the continuing congestion caused by the months-long occupation of the normally busy junction on Sukhumwit, the BMA had decided to bring forward construction of a flyover to carry traffic between Soi Asoke north of the protesters’ encampment and Ratchadaphisek Road.
When this had first been proposed, the PRDC leadership had been caught flat-footed. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was not available (he was reportedly busy trying to think of some new illegal activity that he could instigate with impunity to bring down the government) and an impromptu meeting behind the main stage could not come to a decision.
While some felt that the flyover compromised the purpose of the site, i.e. to cause maximum disturbance with the minimum use of resources, others argued that the government budget expended on the construction would hasten the collapse of the caretaker government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
The dispute was quickly settled when Suthep returned and declared in favour of the bridge, citing the advantage of being able to speed more quickly to his nightly accommodation at the Dusit Thani Hotel on Rama IV Road. The remaining PDRC leadership quickly fell in behind this people’s democratic decision.
However, when workmen began banging in the pilings, some of the handful of protesters still on site felt that their right to disturb residents in the area with loudspeakers and whistling was being infringed on. ‘How can we cause a proper nuisance with this racket going on?’ asked one miffed protestor.
The situation was made more complicated by the sub-occupation of a significant part of the occupation site by disgruntled vendors. Heavily outnumbering the protestors, they had begun a sit-in some 5 weeks earlier in protest at the dwindling attendance at the site and the negative effect it has had on their trade.
‘I’ve got 5000 whistles in stock with hand-made red, white and blue pompoms,’ said one dissatisfied vendor. ‘Who am I going to flog them to if not this lot?’
The vendors pointed a finger at the PDRC management as responsible for their plight. ‘In the early days at the beginning of the year, they had live bands on stage here and lots of different speakers. It drew big crowds.
‘But now they just feed in a signal from what’s going on at another stage. And the last straw was when they reran the same tired old speech by Suthep three nights in a row. You can’t keep up attendance that way.’
During the mayhem, some trinket sellers were seen to take advantage of the chaos by stealing back goods that they had already sold to protesters, who in turn attempted to confiscate the vendors’ goods as strategically important commodities, worthless kitsch and objects of nationalist veneration.
Local inhabitants and passers-by were seen to cheer on the fighting. ‘It’s about time someone knocked sense into their heads, even if they are doing it to themselves’ said one spectator, who claimed he had regularly had to change buses to get past the intersection, wasting time and doubling his travel costs.
A convoy of pick-up trucks soon appeared on the scene and disgorged a number of masked, black-clad men carrying pop-corn bags containing some kind of long object. Confused about who to fire at, they took off their masks, were photographed by the press and remain unidentified.
Police were again slated by the PDRC for failing to provide protection to their protesters as they fought each other while illegally occupying a public space. This criticism comes after repeated demands from the PDRC for the police to keep away from their sites since they are seen as agents of a corrupt and illegitimate government.
In a later statement, PDRC spokesperson Akanat Promphan accused the monster raving loony government for fomenting the disturbance. ‘It is an undeniable fact that all the problems in Thailand stem from the criminal and corrupt activities of the illegal and illegitimate Shinawatra government. We have irrefutable proof that paid Cambodian saboteurs instigated this outrage.’
He said that all victims of the violence were being given medical treatment at PRDC’s expense and promised that the perpetrators would be dealt with by special interrogation squads, even if this meant that some innocent victims would be given a going over as guilty perpetrators just as soon as they got out of hospital.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).