Thailand protesters walk home 311.
(photo credit: AP)
BANGKOK – Amid the
cacophony of wailing sirens, scrawny strays barking at German shepherd
police dogs, and an armored personnel carrier’s loudspeakers issuing
orders at the protest site here on Wednesday, women and men in
flip-flops filed past in silent surrender.On streets strewn
with the litter of the
hastily evacuated camp, soldiers milled about, poking the debris with
their boots and giving some discarded items a closer inspection.
On the verge of tears,
they clutched worn plastic shopping bags holding their few possessions,
avoiding eye contact with the troops and policemen in their bulletproof
vests toting automatic weapons.
Several bare-chested men
shuffled along with their arms raised.
At a sandbagged military
fortification, they were searched, then allowed to proceed down the
razor-wire-strewn road to waiting Red Cross medics and black police
On the sidewalk there was a growing pile of confiscated
items: the movement’s trademark red shirts, its foot-shaped plastic
clappers, rolled-up rattan mats, flashlights, walkie-talkies, political
Laid out on one side were several wooden slingshots
with marbles, ball bearings, bolts and nuts, which some protesters had
used to taunt security forces.
A few hundred meters behind the
procession of anti-government “red shirt” protesters surrendering
themselves to security forces, thick gray plumes billowed skyward from
the burning remains of a marquee movie hall at Siam Square.
in the distance, columns of smoke rose from the ultramodern Central
World Plaza shopping mall, the Stock Exchange, and the offices of a
local television station, all three set ablaze by protesters in apparent
Red Shirt leaders in Thailand ready for talks
Bracing for the worst in Bangkok as troops gather
Some Israelis not rushing to leave Thailand
The scene, reminiscent perhaps of a Hollywood
take on the evacuation of the Warsaw Ghetto, had surreal, conflicting
elements to it.
Although forbidding in their combat gear and with
their automatic weapons, several soldiers seemed welcoming toward the
men and women leaving their protest site in central Bangkok’s commercial
heart after a six-week standoff with Thai security forces.
of the officers amiably shook hands with several protesters, wishing
them good luck on their way home to the impoverished northeast region.
man hobbled by with a leg wound.
Down the road, three young men,
their hands tied behind their backs with plastic handcuffs, were being
interrogated by police officers in riot gear poring through cheap
toiletries, boxes of cigarettes and bottles of Thai whiskey.
goods had allegedly been looted from a shuttered 7-Eleven during the
chaotic, deadly clashes that ensued earlier in the day after security
forces began forcefully reclaiming the 4-sq.km. area that had been
occupied by the anti-government protesters.
After four days of
violence that left at least 40 people dead and hundreds injured, the
military launched an all-out assault on the protesters’ encampment in
the predawn hours on Wednesday.
Troops breached the encampment’s
medieval-looking fortifications, fashioned from rubber tires and bamboo
stakes. They proceeded to round up the thousands of steadfast redshirts
entrenched in their sprawling, self-contained village – a protest center
with a distinctly rural flavor erected outside some of Asia’s glitziest
shopping malls and five-star hotels.
retaliated with slingshots and homemade explosives fired from bamboo
tubes. Protest leaders soon surrendered, but defiant bands of red shirts
engaged in hit-and-run guerrilla-style skirmishes with security forces
into the night.
This reporter’s furtive late afternoon foray into
the western side of Siam Square, now under military control, revealed
an eerie, deserted scene at what is normally a trendy teenage haunt
bustling with life.
protester with severe burns on his forearms and face was receiving
first-aid. From the distance came the muffled sound of shots.
Although Thailand’s seemingly intractable political conflict is
generally described as a struggle between the rural poor supporters of
ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup
in 2006, and the Thai military and its political allies among well-off
urbanites, loyalties are often blurred.
One of the soldiers at a sandbagged fortification outside a convenience
store talked politics, clearly unaware he was speaking to a journalist.
“Do you like Thaksin?” he asked.
Despite being a fugitive in exile, the ex-premier is still very popular
in the country’s northeast and among its urban poor. He’s reviled by
Bangkok’s political and business elite.
“Do you like him?” I shot back.
The soldier, who said he came from Nakhon Rachasima province in the
northeast, flicked his eyebrows in an apparent affirmative.
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