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Thai protests turn a darker color

By       Message Pepe Escobar     Permalink
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This past weekend, people started to get killed -- four is the figure given so far, with more than a hundred people injured. This op-ed in the local English-language press convincingly argued the implied responsibility of the Yingluck administration. (Suthep and then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva already face what they call politically-motivated murder charges over the deaths of pro-Thaksin and other protesters in 2010.) 

As it stands, Yingluck's promise to self-depose may be just a ruse by her advisers to buy time. They know that even if that happened, it would be the sign for the "red shirt" protest wave to swell all over again, just as in 2009 to 2010. 

A rational way out, supported by an array of Thai scholars, would be for Yingluck to apologize to the nation for the amnesty bill, accept the ruling by the Constitutional Court, and announce an election for mid-2014. Yet Thaksinism knows -- as much as Suthep and the forces behind him -- that would translate into yet another Thaksinism victory, just like the previous four elections. Thus Suthep's insistence in his "People's Council."  

Lost in all the rumble, of course, remains how to conduct the fight against endemic corruption all across the Thai political spectrum and how to ensure that the Constitutional Court and the anti-corruption commission are really impartial. 

Thailand as Ukraine in reverse 

Western corporate media coverage of Thailand has been beyond appalling. Pro-EU protesters in Ukraine against their government are depicted as righteous heirs of the Orange Revolution, while in Thailand political protesters are nothing but a "mob." Anyone surveying the images sees how the Thai police have been using the same methods of crowd control as in the Ukraine. Not to mention that Ukrainian hardcore thuggery was replicated in Thailand by the infamous "black shirts."  

Then there's the reductionist characterization of the "yellow shirts" as the reactionary royalist middle class in Bangkok. Not really. Contradictions do abound when you are a pro-democracy protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, Occupy-style, while carrying a picture of the King. Yet protesters do include a cross-section of the roughly 40% of the Thai population which has consistently voted against Thaksinism. 

While droves of "red shirts" are bused from the countryside into Bangkok -- enjoying free food and a fee -- the lower middle class is also strong among the protesters, alongside urban young adults who include university students from elite families. 

A key question is why the central and southern Thailand lower middle class happens to align with the "yellows shirts" and not the "reds." A possible explanation is that government schemes mostly benefit the north and northwest. Then there's the extra complicating factor that the central and the southern regions depend on migrants from the north -- as in the private-sector migrant workforce and the security apparatus. 
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In Bangkok, there seems to be a rule that as protests remain peaceful, there's more middle class and even part of the elite in the streets. When it turns into street battles with the police, then it's mostly the "expendable" lower middle class that does all the fighting. 

The big puzzle of these current protests is that were they happening elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a lot of people would have been arrested. Not in Bangkok -- even with police aligned with the Yingluck administration. (Anti-government protesters who had laid siege to the headquarters of Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Bureau were allowed entry to the grounds on Tuesday after police dismantled barbed wire and concrete barriers, the Bangkok Post reported. Demonstrators were able to enter peacefully the grounds of Government House.) 

This points once again to Thaksinism's fear of bloodshed really bringing the government down. 

So whole socio-economic treatises could be written about protest dynamics in Thailand. Don't expect even a hint of nuance on Western corporate media. The definitive case of myopia, so far, revolves around what happened this past weekend on the other side of Bangkok, away from the protests. 

Thaksinism was holding its own "red shirt" 24/7 counter-rally in a stadium near Ramkhamhaeng University. Thousands of university students began protesting against the counter-rally. The clash was inevitable -- and featured shady "black shirts" duly captured on photo and video shooting students. 
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The fatalities this past weekend were in the university, not in the protests. University students as well as the university rector confirmed how a girl was attacked, then a boy was shot dead while the police did nothing, even though several students were under sniper fire by a "black shirt" captured on camera. It was up to the army to move in to protect the university. 

Talk to the billionaire

No question; even "invisible," self-exiled Thaksin is the undisputed star of this thriller. For the rural poor masses in the north and northeast (the majority of the country's population, and his voting base), Thaksin is nothing but a billionaire Buddha. 

Outside Bangkok, Thailand remains essentially feudalistic. Thaksin was always wily enough to position himself as the ultimate populist savior. No wonder the traditional political establishment in Bangkok felt threatened by a northern family who made its fortune in silk dispensing massive patronage and building an alternative state-within-a state. 

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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