Tag Archives: Bangkok

News :Thai protesters enjoy free food, $3 massage

By JOCELYN GECKER,Associated Press Writer AP – Saturday, September 6

BANGKOK, Thailand – Once open only to the ruling elite, Thailand’s stately Government House has turned into a cross between a refugee camp and a village fairground.

Thousands of anti-government protesters occupying the prime minister’s office compound have set up a tent city complete with free food, outdoor showers, entertainment, massages and lots of manicured shrubs for hanging laundry to dry.

The siege, in its 11th day Friday, is aimed at forcing Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign. The demonstrators have not succeeded in kicking him out of office, but they have kept him out his office.

To ease the kinks caused by round-the-clock protesting, massage services are available under the shade of palm trees for $3 an hour.

In a live radio broadcast Thursday, Samak called the situation a national embarrassment and refused to step down _ drawing boos and jeers from thousands of protesters fanning themselves on lawn chairs outside his office.

“I am outside and can’t work properly,” Samak said, his speech broadcast from a sound stage set up on the Government House lawn.

Samak initially based himself at a military headquarters outside Bangkok, but his aides say he has lately worked from an office at the Defense Ministry.

“Is it shameful? Yes, it is,” Samak said.

Still, authorities have been reluctant to use force against the crowd for fear they will be denounced for sparking violence with the protesters, who have armed themselves with makeshift weapons and vowed to resist any attempt to remove them.

Also, violence, or the perception that it was imminent, could cause the military to stage a coup with the excuse that it was necessary to restore order, as it did in September 2006. It was demonstrations by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which is leading the current protest, that sparked the instability that led to the coup.

The new demonstration is built on the alliance’s belief that Western-style democracy does not work for Thailand. It says the ballot box gives too much weight to the impoverished rural majority allegedly susceptible to vote buying that breeds corruption. It wants Parliament to be revamped so most lawmakers would be appointed rather than elected.

The protest has caused one of the biggest political crises since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. It is the first time in the country’s history that civilians have overrun the seat of government.

Built in the early 20th century and modeled after a Venetian palace, the Gothic-style Government House is one of Bangkok’s most distinguished buildings.

The alliance’s security volunteers sit behind a barbed-wire barricade at the entrance, which is stacked with motorcycle helmets for protection and golf clubs, bamboo rods and rudimentary shields.

“Welcome! Would you like something to eat?” asked Pongping Kumna, a protester manning the free food stand just past the entrance gate. Tables were piled high with donated food, many ordered from popular Bangkok restaurants.

Recent offerings included sauteed chicken with chili and basil, Thai-style noodles from a famous downtown noodle shop, McDonald’s hamburgers and, for dessert, chocolate doughnuts and shaved ice with fruit flavoring.

“We have everything we need here. There’s no reason to leave,” said Pongping, 44, a clothing shop owner from the southern beach town of Krabi who had camped at the compound for nine days.

Protesters, mostly royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents and union activists, have tapped into the Government House’s electricity system. Extension cords charge mobile phones and power televisions.

The anti-government channel ASTV, owned by protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul, is broadcast round-the-clock on TV sets scattered around the grounds.

Fiery anti-Samak speakers take the stage, alternating with pop singers, like one recently crooning James Taylor songs as the crowd clapped and swayed.

When supplies are needed, protest leaders take the microphone and call for donations from supporters, who have responded by trucking in portable toilets and rudimentary outdoor showers with curtains for privacy.

The stench of urine and garbage is a problem they are trying to address.

Signs taped to the building’s ornate facade note: “The Government House is the property of the Thai people. So all Thais should keep it clean.”

For medical needs, there are several first-aid stations, which also hand out free shampoo, soap, mouthwash and razors.

Doctors from hospitals and clinics around Thailand have taken leaves to join the protest, said Bangkok ophthalmologist Somporn Reepolmania, pointing out a surgeon, dentist, psychiatrist and anesthesiologist.

“We are protesting against Samak and against the corrupt politics of Thailand,” he said. “The government has no morals, no ethics, and the system doesn’t work. We have to change it.”

Protesters say they are not afraid of conflict. Some have traveled long distances to take part in the demonstrations.

“I flew from Los Angeles to Bangkok to be with (my) people,” said United Airlines flight attendant Maree Lertphraewphun, who has lived in the United States for 38 years. She requested vacation to join the protests.

“If I happen to die, I will die with them,” she said.

Article : Another bitter lesson that may get us nowhere

STOPPAGE TIME
Another bitter lesson that may get us nowhere

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation
Published on September 3, 2008

OUR luck could only hold so far. If Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag was right – that everything happening in Thailand is part of a democratic evolution – then we have been getting the hardest possible lesson. Things have come a long, long way from the day when the People’s Alliance for Democracy was seemingly a pure ideological force, whose members had nothing more complicated in their hearts than the feeling that something was morally wrong with the Temasek deal.

We have gone through countless soul-searching exercises since an extremely rich politician refused to pay taxes when he should have. Protests were labelled by some as a “blow to democracy”, but we thought, “What’s wrong with people taking to the streets to denounce corruption?”

Then a coup tested our conscience and, just when we thought that was the toughest we could bear, the dissolution of a party that had won unprecedented support from the poor followed.

The coup and disbanding of the Thai Rak Thai Party turned out to be just initial bumps in our roller-coaster quest for the right morals. A reincarnation of Thai Rak Thai swept a general election, a landslide victory that, to some, endorsed democracy but, to others, amplified doubts about the system.

When the new government plotted to change the new Constitution, deemed by one side a legacy of the coup and by the other necessary medicine to cure democratic ills, new turmoil erupted.

We prayed it wouldn’t degenerate into a war, because this is where everyone discards morals that are held so dearly at first and embraces the very means they used to abhor. The wishful thinking ended last week when the PAD lost its patience and took civil disobedience a step too far. The brief seizure of National Broadcast Television and occupation of Government House were provocative and hardly justifiable, and when the opposing camp staged an even more belligerent rally at nearby Sanam Luang, Rajadamnoen wept again.

It’s too easy, however, to blame the PAD’s provocation, or the rival protesters’ blood thirst, or the police’s conspicuously poor preparation. The “causes” of Tuesday’s tragedy could stretch back years and they have been blurred by the failure of both sides of the conflict to uphold fundamental principles.

Where should we start our diagnosis? Should we go as far back as the time when Thaksin Shinawatra was spraying his shares to nominees all over the place and still managed to slip through constitutional safeguards to become ruler of Thailand? Or was Tuesday’s infamy a more direct result of his rivals’ inability to take election results as his absolution?

We have tempted and teased our fortune – by ignoring guiding values or using them selectively. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that both sides have been claiming that they fight for the same ideal goal – a good political system – yet don’t mind killing each other to achieve it. Both share the same bitterness, anger and confusion, and suffer the same curse of flying high one day and having their hopes and dreams upended the next.

How can a nation break apart with its people so alike? Why is our nation so fragile with us so “flexible”? It seems clear now that we are not divided by ideologies, but rather pure lust for power.

Last year’s referendum was purportedly on a charter but in reality it was largely over one man. The military that ousted Thaksin practically repeated his tracks, though on a relatively minor scale. The PAD decried the siege of The Nation’s headquarters by pro-Thaksin mobs more than two years ago, only to end up terrorising the NBT staff itself last week. The courts are “just” and must be obeyed as long as they rule against our enemies and until the judges turn against us.

If Tej was right, our democratic evolution still has a long way to go. We have learned a lot but have still achieved only a little. One side condemns the other side for sacrificing values and respect for human rights, only to sacrifice its own values and principles.

Is there a force stronger than democratic aspirations, one that always lurks to tip our balance? Or is this just a myth about democracy – that the only way to attain it is through breaking its fundamental laws?

Will we be able to complete the study and emerge as a competent nation, made healthy through the hardest, most unforgettable lessons? Or are we stuck and will finally be doomed, because we are using raw instincts to try to achieve something so ideal?

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I’m off to Bangkok….

from the Nation Website

Deja Vu again for Thailand, as People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and other anti-government decided to protest against the Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej just barely a few months in parliament, demanding that he should step down. The last time in 2006, the rioters turned ugly, overthrowing Thaksin, the former prime minster’s government. Thaksin Shinawatra was accused of massive corruption and had fled to Britain.

This time, the anti-government protesters accuse Sundaravej of being the lackey of Thaksin and of election rigging.

On Tuesday 2 Sept 2008, the prime minster declaration state of emergency, disallowing any assembly of more than five people. Not a good idea, as it may aggravate the situation with the protesters camping out at the Government House having yet another excuse to storm the streets.

It had been a tense period, PAD managed to close down Phuket airport on Friday and Hat Yai on Tuesday. Hopefully not Bangkok airport which I would need to be flying out by end of the week.

FYI : PAD was organised by a group of right winged businessmen and political activists. The protesters carries images of the King, Bhumibol Adulyadej declaring absolute reverence during their camp out at the Government house. Wonder if there is any significance?

While I shouldn’t comment on the Thai Politics, I really feel this is once again politically motivated by the higher powers. I wonder how long Thailand can remain a democracy with all these infighting going on. Everyone is jostling for power and Thailand is rearing itself to become military rule once more.

Not good for the Thai economy, not good for ASEAN region. The tourists are fleeing.

A few countries including Singapore had advised against travelling to Thailand.

A little bit of drama the whole day, as a group of people were suppose to travel with me had decided to cancel their trip.

I have decided to travel to Bangkok inspite of it, bags packed, cameras ready, airticket in hand.
Let’s see what’s the real situation there.

PS : Hope the Thai government don’t close down internet access. In the meantime I have scheduled up a few Thai related news for archiving in the blog