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Thailand reds shirts, yellow shirts duel over victim compensation

Thailand's political turmoil pits anti-government red shirts against the yellow shirts, who back the current regime. Now the government and the opposition are vying to compensate the victims of the political violence.

By Correspondent / April 21, 2010

Pro-government supporters wave Thai flags in front of anti-government 'red shirt' protesters at an intersection close to the Silom Road financial district in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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Bang Poo, Thailand

The pickup truck pulled up at the Buddhist temple and offloaded a wooden coffin. Inside was the body of Vasan Putong, who died on April 10 of a gunshot wound during a night of clashes in Bangkok between security forces and anti-government protesters that left 25 dead.

The victim's mother Charoen Pongton sat at an outdoor table, her eyes red and her voice reduced to a husk. By her side was a framed photo of Mr. Vasan, a self-employed tailor, standing in a crowd of people dressed in the red shirts of the Thailand protest movement, which he followed until his death.

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The red shirt protestor say that the ouster of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 was illegal and want current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva removed from office. Many of the red shirts are poor, rural Thais, and have tied up Thailand's capital with anti-government protests for a month now. Opposing them are the yellow shirts, a collection of royalists, businessmen, and the urban middle class.

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On Monday, Vasan's coffin was paraded in the back of the pickup along the nearby highway, both as a mark of respect and to score political points.

Ms. Charoen says she has yet to decide a date for Vasan’s cremation. Instead, she prefers to wait until the red shirts succeed in their campaign to force the government to call new elections. “I ask everyone to fight on. My son has already died. Nothing will happen unless people fight on,” she says.

Thailand’s political turmoil has exposed deep divisions in a fearful society caught between dueling, color-coded forces. In death, as in life, those divisions are on sharp display. Funeral ceremonies for the slain red shirts, who draw support from rural and working-class voters, are a sea of red, not the customary black. Eulogies are spliced with political speeches and fund-raising for more protests.

For the dead and injured soldiers, there is a different support network. Last week, Queen Sirikit, wife of Thailand’s revered monarch, made a televised visit to military hospital wards. Together with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, she attended the funeral of an Army colonel who once served as her bodyguard.

The palace has also announced its own compensation scheme that is open to all victims. The government said Tuesday it had allocated money for a similar scheme with a sliding scale of payouts.

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