Political protests here entered their fourth day Tuesday with demonstrators pouring out blood at the office of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in a stunt to pressure him to step down and hold elections.
During the day, opposition lawmakers and supporters had lined up to donate the blood. But the bravado came against a backdrop of an implacable government, which has firm military support, and a declining number of protesters.
On Sunday, the crowd peaked at more than 100,000. But fatigue has set in and raised questions over how long the protest can run.
That points toward a potentially embarrassing retreat for the protesters, who wear red shirts and draw much of their support from the rural north and northeast.
Warnings of violence
Thai officials and Western diplomats warn that frustrated protesters may resort to violence, though rally organizers insist that their methods are peaceful. They deny any link to a grenade attack Monday at an Army base that injured two soldiers.
Last week, the government invoked a security law that empowers the military to put down any unrest. A similar red-shirt protest ended in chaos nearly a year ago, tarnishing the leaders’ reputation.
But some activists argue that confrontation may be inevitable, given the deep divisions. “We know the risks. We do this despite of the risks,” says one, who claims that the red shirts have covert support from inside the military.
Abhisit has said that he won’t use force to disperse the rally, one of the biggest in four years of political turmoil. Small units of police and military have kept a low profile around the protest site, which sprawls along a central avenue that has become a makeshift camp of demonstrators.
Thaksin’s influence looms
Many red shirts are loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup, though they argue that their real goal is democracy in a country that spent much of its modern history under US-backed military rule. Thailand’s royalist elite has struggled to cap Mr. Thaksin’s influence. But the former leader, who was the first prime minister to complete a four-year parliamentary term and won reelection by a landslide in 2005, remains popular.
Thailand has sought unsuccessfully to extradite Thaksin from his base in Dubai. He has addressed the rally in Bangkok via videolink, urging supporters to stay the course and fight for justice. Last week, government officials claimed he had traveled to Cambodia, where he is an official adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, a source of diplomatic friction with Thailand.
‘The blood of the reds’
Early Tuesday morning, nurses inside tents drew blood from waiting protesters and put it in plastic bottles. A plan to collect 1,000 liters of blood was scaled down to a lesser amount, but rally leaders insisted on the symbolism of their act.
“If Abhisit still want to be in his position, he must step over the blood of the reds to enter his office,” one of the leaders, Nattawut Saikua, told reporters.
As the protests continue, so do concerns of what will happen next on the streets of Bangkok. “It’s going to end,” says a Western diplomat. “They’ve got to decide if it’s going to be the easy way or the hard way.”