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.
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But in Bang Poo and other factory towns outside Bangkok, red shirts are taking care of their own. Local politicians, red-shirt organizers and community radio stations are paying for hospital and funeral costs, in thinly disguised competition with official channels of assistance.
At a public hospital, Kowit Winet props himself up in bed, wincing from a gunshot wound in his chest. As the TV cameras roll, the wife of a local politician hands him an envelope with $310 inside and wishes him a speedy recovery. Doctors say that could take two more months.
Mr. Kowit, a truck driver who traveled daily to Bangkok to join the rallies, says he had gone to the front line on April 10 after a protest leader called for reinforcements. He heard the crack of gunfire but wasn’t sure from which side. Suddenly he was hit.
“We are so many people, and we don’t have any weapons. I didn’t think they would hurt us,” he says.
He fills out a form for Vorapawat Poomnimitra, a local lawyer for the opposition Pua Thai party, who plans to sue the government on behalf of the victims. Mr. Vorapawat, who runs a radio station that funnels protesters and meals to the rallies, says four local men died in the clashes.
“The families are proud of what they did. They were asking for democracy,” he says.
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These families stand to receive nearly $4,000 from the party and other sources – far more than the $1,500 pledged on behalf of the king and queen. Vorapawat says no disrespect is intended. But other red shirts are critical of Queen Sirikit’s high-profile support for troops and to her appearance at the 2008 funeral of a rival yellow-shirted protester who died during a clash with police.
Panuwach Roongmorakot, a university lecturer in psychology and an opposition supporter, likens the situation to a mother who has two squabbling sons. If they fight, she shouldn’t take sides, he argues. “We are human. We have human feelings,” he says.
Not all opposition supporters feel so strongly. On Tuesday, several of the injured arrived at the Bureau of the Royal Household, located inside an ornate 18th century royal palace in Bangkok, to seek compensation. Each was examined by a doctor and given money to cover their medical costs. Of the dead, 17 families had so far applied for the $1,500 payout, said a bureau official.
To receive the payment, each applicant is required to bow before an altar of oil portraits of the King and Queen, before taking their envelope from a golden bowl. One protester who had been shot in the leg had to perform the ritual on crutches. He hobbled away with $310.
Back at the temple, Charoen says her son had been injured before in a knife fight with a pro-government protester. On the morning of April 10, he told her he was going to Bangkok and said if he died she should wear red in his memory. She later heard of his death on a radio broadcast.
Many Thais have seen Vasan’s death, which was captured on film. A skinny man in a red T-shirt, he carries a flag along a darkened street, before being cut down with a single shot to the head. No shooter is visible in the frame. The military has said its troops fired in self-defense and accused shadowy gunmen on the red-shirt side of fomenting the violence. The government has promised an investigation.