Reds Set Bangkok Ablaze. But Did They Get The Wrong 'Elite'

Angry anti-government demonstrators, claiming to be fighting for democracy and for the poor against Thailand’s elite, set fire to Bangkok yesterday burning down banks, shopping malls, and small shops.

After their leaders surrendered to Thai Army troops furious members of the United Front for Democracy over Dictatorship went on a looting and fiery rampage throughout the city and in upcountry Thailand.

Last night hundreds of tourists were reported to be stranded in the Thai capital unable to get to the airport for their flights home after the government announced a curfew from 8 pm to 6am for Bangkok and 22 other provinces were put under curfew.

Death toll rises

The day’s death toll rose to 12 after six bodies were found inside the grounds of Pathumwanram Temple in the centre of the former ‘exclusion zone’ after a firefight which lasted well into the late hours.

The temple was a place not only where women and children were sheltering but also where red shirt die hards decided to make a last stand.

Earlier black smoke washed over the Bangkok skyline after furious red shirts also burned down Central World, a show piece department store and conference complex, the second largest in South East Asia, and set fire to the country’s Channel 3 Radio.  By nightfall some 20 other buildings were ablaze.

Central World on fire. Snipers are alleged to have halted fire trucks

But their mentor Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Prime Minister, who predicated guerrilla warfare if the troops used force, may not have been amused.

Red shirts target ‘wrong elite’

Channel 3 is owned by the wealthy Maleenont Thai Chinese family.  Pracha Maleenont was Thaksin Shinawatra’s Minister for Sport and Tourism before Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup.

The Central Group, which owns the now destroyed Central World, is owned by the Chirathavit Thai Chinese family which also has controlling shares of the Bangkok Post .

Kasikorn Bank burning/ thapanee3miti

When Thaksin was in power he had the editor of the Bangkok Post fired, through director Samrit Chirathavit, after he wrote an editorial telling the Prime Minister not to be so ‘arrogant’.

Although Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday denied he had control of the UDD, he has admitted many times that they took his advice. The Government has also accused him of funding the protests. More specifically they say he vetoed a proposed ‘road map’ and has been funding the demonstrations.

Guerrila warfare

Yesterday Thaksin said: ‘A military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas.’
No sooner had he said it that his prophecy appeared to be fulfilled.  Red shirts set fire to the Stock Exchange of Thailand,  Central World, Siam Cinema, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board and several banks and late yesterday some 23 buildings were reported to have been torched.

The Thai Criminal Court issued a warrant for Thaksin Shinawatra on terrorism charges but later withdrew it, seeking further information to back the charge.

Protesters also looted shops and attacked ATM machines with crowbars. But with no leaders there appeared to be no reason to their madness.

There were also widespread reports of the targeting of journalists, who the redshirts blame for their defeat.  The Editor of the Nation newspaper has been urgently tweeting to journalists : ‘Take off your green press armbands now!’.
In the district of Samrong British schoolteacher Richard Barrow said: ‘Every time the TV showed pictures of burning buildings the red-shirts cheered. The biggest cheer was for the Channel 3 building on fire. This is not the Thailand I have loved for 16 years.’

In Siam Square, Bangkok’s equivalent of Covent Garden, a theatre was burned down. Shops  there as at Central World were also reported to have been looted.

As the government announced a curfew stores throughout the city started shutting up and there was a mad rush on supermarkets and petrol stations.

Similar incidents were reported up country with the provincial hall in Udon Thani, a redshirt stronghold near the Laos border, taken over by the redshirts and burned down and violent protests reported also in Khon Kaen in north east Thailand and in Samut Prakan and Sri Racha in the central belt.

Tens of thousands of tourists in the resort of Pattaya were confined to their hotels as all the bars and clubs shut.

Sharpened bamboo smashed into tooth picks

The day’s furiously paced events started at 4 am when there were scenes of chaos in the camp of the anti-government protesters when at first fires were doused with water cannon and then the Thai army sent in Chinese made Type 85 AFV armoured personnel carriers.  The vehicles made toothpicks out of the sharpened bamboo poles in the barricades.

Then troops slowly but methodically picked their way through towards the centre of the protest camp, taking time to secure hand grenades hanging within the barricades and defusing suspected bombs.

Around 1.15 pm, red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan had appeared on the rally stage making a passionate plea for the red shirts to end protesting at Rajprasong to avoid further loss of life.

Vandergrift – a tragic irony

‘Please understand and I know you all know I will never abandon you, but it is now time to avoid more lives lost, because it is our redshirts who got killed.’

Some six are thought have been killed with scores of others injured in the initial assault. The scene of the bloodiest action in the last few minutes  before the surrender was near Sarasin Road, Bangkok, about five hundred yards from the Red HQ.

Among the dead was Fabio Polenghi, an Italian photographer who was shot in the stomach and who died before he could reach hospital. A second, a Canadian, Chandler Vandergrift who felt the full force of a grenade  together with two soldiers,  is believed to be critically injured.

Soldier injured by the same M79 grenade as Chandler Vandergrift

Vandergrift, 42 , also a part time ngo, ‘film-maker’, and apparent expert on ‘risk assessment’ was a red-shirt supporter and in his last blog ‘Weapons of the weak’ he asked if Red shirts had weapons why there were no pictures of them.  He described Abhisit Vejjajiva as a failed Prime Minister and Panitan Wattanayakorn as a ‘former academic turned shameless government mouthpiece’.

Ironically Vandergrift, who also wrote stories together with Canadian Nelson Rand, who was shot by troops earlier in the week, took the full blast from a red-shirt M79 rifle grenade.

Bangkok based British photographer Andrew Chant, from Yeovil,  who was nearby said: ‘We came under attack from M79 grenades. The first one exploded in front of me.  I was stunned but I think a tree and roadside concrete must have sent the shrapnel the other way.

‘Another one a hundred yards away took down a solder and the Canadian. The Canadian was moaning a lot. There was a lot of blood’.
Meanwhile some 20 protesters dressed in black, possibly members of the mysterious ‘Men in Black’, who the military claimed have been shooting back, were seized and detained in the Kian Kwuan building nearby, which houses the European Commission’s local office.

Shortly after 2 pm with the surrender of the leaders government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn announced that the government was back under control

The operation was inevitable after the Thai Government said yesterday it would no longer negotiate the with red-shirted demonstrators, who are in the main supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’, better known in Britain as the man who made a killing on Manchester City Football Club.

An angry Thaksin distanced himself from the violence yesterday’ I am man of peace. I have never supported violence’.
Last night the city was in the control of the police and army. All television stations played ‘Auld Lang Syne’ prior to government announcements.

 Panitan Wattanayakorn said: ‘People caught out after the curfew should have their ID or their passports. But please stay at home.  We apologise.  We are so sorry. What we have seen is not the nature of the Thai people. We are gentle people.  It seems that journalists, in particular foreign journalists, have been targeted. We do not know why. We are trying to find out, and we are putting things back in order.

*Of course in the politics of the elite in Thailand nothing is set in stone and often the elite just give their allegiance to the Prime Minister of the day, and or the ‘winning side’.

About the Author

Andrew Drummond

Andrew Drummond is a British independent journalist and occasional television documentary maker. He is a former Fleet Street, London, journalist having worked at the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, News of the World, Observer and The Times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.