The Thai capital is seething with tension as anti-government groups continue to clash with riot police, writes David McNeill in Bangkok
SEKSAN JITJAMONG and his comrades are tooled up for battle: combat fatigues, masks, slingshots, metals bars and water for washing tear gas from the eyes - the arsenal of a street fight, topped off with crash helmets emblazoned with the words "cop killer".
"We don't want to use violence but if the police use it against us we have no choice but to defend ourselves," he warns. His friends nod in agreement. Some show scars from bloody clashes with Thai riot police this week, in which two were killed and 480 injured. Pictures of amputated limbs and battered protesters have been circulated, inflaming already bitter feelings against the authorities.
Bangkok is a city divided, with talk of more violence to come and even another coup. Thousands of Thais like Jitjamong occupy the area around government buildings, making it a no-go area for the police. In August, supporters of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stormed these buildings armed with machetes and golf clubs, chasing the occupants out and sparking Thailand's worst political crisis in a generation. They are refusing to leave until the government falls.
New prime minister Somchai Wongsawat has been forced to lead his cabinet from a makeshift parliament near the old Bangkok airport, as the protests grow.
"This government has no legitimacy to rule," explains PAD leader Somsak Kosaisook. "They got into office by fraud, and under the constitution we have the right to challenge them. We will keep going until they are gone."
When Somchai turned up on Tuesday to give his first policy speech, the crowds erupted in dawn-to-dusk protests, barricading MPs and ministers inside, cutting off their supplies and reportedly dumping the contents of a sewage truck on the steps of Government House. Somchai fled, dealing a perhaps fatal blow to his credibility. "Whatever dignity he had left was lost as he scrambled over the fence and on to the waiting helicopter," said political analyst Suranand Vejjajiva.
The government's deputy prime minister was so angered by Tuesday's bloodshed that he has resigned and now demands another coup to end the political strife. "There is no other way out," Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told the Thai press yesterday.
To the relief of many, army commander-in-chief Nupong Paojinda has waved such talk away, and ordered his troops to wear white ribbons around their left arms to show that they are neutral. Around the government buildings, PAD supporters are digging in for a long fight. A makeshift protest city has grown up, festooned with flags and portraits of the Thai king and equipped with weapons depots and free-food tents.
Many are gearing up for a protest on Monday, when they will march on the police headquarters to demand the names of those responsible for Tuesday's violence. The protest is another potential flashpoint. "We want peace but will match violence with violence," says Seksan Jitjamong.
Outside protest city, PAD leaders are accused of using young hotheads like Seksan to provoke the government and force the army to again step in. Somchai's government believes pro-PAD arsonists tried to torch the education ministry several times this week in a bid to create more chaos.
The editors over at The Nation must be going crazy since the international media is not goose-stepping in line behind their lies and propaganda.
I'm sure Yoon and company are gearing up for a week's worth of anti-foreigner and right-wing nationalist criticisms in response.
I have been reading a lot of foreign media this week from newspapers all over the globe. It really amazes me how good the reporting has been, especially in comparison to the PAD propaganda that The Nation and Bangkok Post have been producing. In light of YouTube and other forms of media, it really is shocking how the editors at those two newspapers cling to their lies when people can see for themselves that not everything is in black and white, and that the PAD is not this democracy loving peace movement engaged in the non-violent civil disobedience like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.
The BBC seems to agree:
There is little doubt that the police were reckless in the way they moved against the protesters.
But there has been surprisingly little condemnation in the Thai media of the PAD's own tactics: the construction of tyre-and-barbed-wire barricades to blockade MPs inside parliament, the use of guns by some PAD supporters against the police, video showing a PAD truck ploughing into a line of police then reversing over the injured body of one officer.
There has been no attempt by the Thai papers to trace the source of the PAD's very substantial funding, or of the obviously expert paramilitary training given to some its followers.
It is true there is little public affection for Thailand's corrupt police force, and even less, in Bangkok, for the members of the new cabinet, who astonishingly seems even less convincing than their inept predecessors.
When this crisis is over and the history of the period is written, I think many will be grateful to the internet for providing an alternative version of events.