I ventured into Silom Road last night after seeing some buzz on Twitter that something might be going down. Protests by “non-colored shirts” counter-protesters – many of them residents or workers in Silom Road — have been happening during lunch break and in the evenings.
I came in following the shift change of police in riot gear. They had just gotten their briefing by bullhorn in a side soi and marched into position at the top of Silom Road right across Rama IV Road from the tire and bamboo barricade of the Red Shirt protesters.
What was so unsettling was how much it all resembled an important football match. The crowd cheered on the police as though it was the home team (which they aren’t – the police are the barricade between the two groups who nevertheless fire insults and loud speeches back and forth. Later on the crowd would be calling them “tomato police” as in Red Shirt sympathizers).
The crowd took up chants toward the Red Shirts including “Get out!” and others as well as a Thai song that sounds vaguely similar to When the Saints Go Marching In. Traffic passed by on Rama IV the whole time. Soldiers were still in position on the pedestrian bridge and further back on Silom Road the razor wire coils were still in place. Despite the obvious hazard people had already adjusted to walking among them and I saw this little effort by someone to make it a little less worrisome.
At one point a man came in from Rama IV on a red motorbike with a red bandana around his neck. Amazed, I followed him knowing he wouldn’t go 5 meters without an incident. The crowd closed in around him quickly and I feared a lynching. But they almost seemed gentle in removing the bandana and his response to keep his hands down and not resist and even smirk a bit was probably wise.
Nevertheless the crowd then started shouting at him and pushing in closer and it was clear they wanted to hurt him now. Other members of the same crowd pushed back enough so the police had an opening to squeeze in with shields and give him room to back his bike up and go back the way he came.
Not long after this a taxi with red stickers on its bumper and trunk stopped in traffic and several came out of the crowd to try to scrape the stickers off. When the driver got out to argue, he got no response and was careful not to push anyone. He got back in and drove off as soon as he could. (See video clip)
There are some reports of some rocks being thrown and from what I saw the Rama IV overpass which had had a few Red Shirts on it earlier was being held by police. For a while the Red Shirts stood defiantly outside their barricade but then moved back inside for more speeches. The crowd really wanted the police, decked out in full riot gear, to do something. But their job here was likely just to hold the line and to keep the two sides separated. That, unfortunately, isn’t what happened later in the evening. (See an exceptional report from Nirmal Ghosh about last night’s minor rock and bottle war)
The Red territory has expanded a bit over the last few days and bamboo barricades have been erected. But the numbers may be declining and in speeches leaders warn the crowd to keep those numbers up. Red Shirt leaders claim 30,000+, a police report said 5000 at Ratchaprasong. It’s hard to say as they are now spread out quite a bit, but the numbers are definitely still large.
The crowd at Ratchaprasong has been under a massive canopy net and so protesters are able to get shade right in front of the street stage which was previously just hot and sunny. The net also serves as some protection against snipers which they believe the government has dispatched to surrounding rooftops.
In the news, Red Shirt leadership is showing some disagreement. One camp says negotiations are out of the question while another would consider a new election in three months but only if that is negotiated through a neutral third party.
The tension continues. The anti-protester crowds are growing as well lead on by frustration of the disruption to their city as well as surely some rhetoric and flame fanning on the part of the opposing Yellow Shirts (PAD) who have threatened to take matters into their own hands if military and police cannot restore order. The weekend may also see another increase in Red Shirts.