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Thai authorities plan to seal off the site of a massive two-month-long demonstration on Thursday by closing roads and surrounding protesters with armored vehicles and snipers.
The announced plan sparked calls for reinforcements from the protesters and tensions were running high in Bangkok, the Thai capital. Because the protesters have refused to budge, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on May 12 rescinded his offer to hold elections this November.'
The protesters, called "red shirts" for their clothing, are largely from rural areas of Thailand and consider the current government illegitimate and controlled by elites. They have demanded the immediate dissolution of parliament and new elections. At least 29 people have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in clashes between police and protesters since the red shirts stormed Bangkok on March 12.
The Thai baht fell Thursday after Thai authorities announced they will close the roads leading to the red shirts’ camp in the commercial district and prevent anyone from entering the area, Reuters reported. The Associated Press reported that armored vehicles and snipers will surround the protest site and that the police “will not hesitate” to shoot armed “terrorists” who resist authorities.
The government’s announcement comes a day after Abhisit backed down from his threat to cut off water and electricity to the commercial district and set a deadline for the protesters to leave the area.
Abhisit’s credibility is wearing thin, reports The Bangkok Post, because of his repeated ultimatums, and he risks losing support if he is not able to end the crisis soon. He appeared to have brought the crisis to an end Monday when the red shirts conditionally accepted his compromise offer to hold elections for a new government in November if the red shirts would abandon their protest, according to World Politics Review:
On the face of it, the roadmap makes attempts to address some of these issues by promoting political and economic reform to address social injustice, and by dissolving the lower house to make way for a general election. It also calls for upholding the constitutional monarchy, establishing an independent body to regulate news and media organizations, and setting up an independent committee to investigate the deadly clashes between security forces and protesters as well as bombings and shootings that the government characterized as acts of terrorism.
But the protesters later backed out of the agreement and then Abhisit rescinded the offer.
Internal divisions in the red shirt camp between hard-liners and more moderate figures may be the reason they initially accepted the offer before refusing to leave their protest site and adding additional demands, including that the deputy prime minister face criminal charges for his role in the April 10 police crackdown on the protesters that left 25 dead and hundreds injured, according to The Bangkok Post.
Many have portrayed the red shirts as puppets of populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 that brought the current government to power, and was convicted of corruption. But The Christian Science Monitor reports that some believe the protest has moved beyond a simple political fight and become a wider call for social justice in Thailand.
[O]thers have linked arms with the red shirts to call for social and economic justice, which resonates deeply in this hardscrabble region. Tapping into this sentiment, the red shirts are adopting the strategies of earlier political movements, adding a dash of communist-style indoctrination by educating recruits at rural retreats and crafting strident pro-poor slogans.
The result is a hybrid of progressive, leftist, and patronage-driven politics that some observers believe has outgrown its veneration of Mr. Thaksin.
The red shirt movement has also exposed a deep divide in Thailand’s society, according to the Associated Press. The protesters have sent messages that their movement is about more than loyalty to Thaksin – they see Thailand’s economy and government as largely controlled by a few elite, and are demanding a greater share of its economic success and political power.
The enduring nature of the protest means that their concerns will have to be taken seriously by future governments, reports the AP.
While it is still unclear what will emerge from the current crisis, analysts are saying the genie is out of the bottle: Any future government will be forced to cope with these pivotal issues. And should it engage in another Thai specialty – sweeping problems under the carpet – critics say the country risks an upheaval of far greater magnitude than the current "battle for Bangkok."