Jun 02 2014
A small but creative group of protesters continues to peacefully resist the coup in Bangkok despite immense efforts by Thailand’s military to stop them. Several key intersections, metro stations and shopping malls were closed on Sunday as flash protests popped up unpredictably. While no serious violence was reported, travellers are advised to monitor the situation closely.
For more background info and specifics on things like travel insurance validity, please see our previous updates.
After crowds of anti-coup protesters gathered around Victory Monument several days in a row, the military began a “no more mister nice guy” policy late last week by deploying over 1,000 soldiers and police to block off the entire area. This breathtaking show of force came a day after angry protesters vandalized an army vehicle during a tense melee that was captured on video.
Normally a major transport hub and vibrant commercial area, the entire Victory Monument traffic circle was sealed off during rush hours again on Thursday and Friday. Sanam Phao, Victory Monument and Phaya Thai BTS stations were also closed; the latter is the only interchange between the skytrain and airport rail link.
— Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) May 29, 2014
Several thousands of soldiers blocked off many key areas of the capital in a massive effort to thwart protests yesterday, focusing much of their initial efforts on the Ratchaprasong intersection in the heart of the Siam Square shopping district. Nearby Ratchadamri, Chitlom and Phloen Chit BTS stations were closed from morning to late afternoon, though very few protesters showed in the immediate area. Phahon Yothin MRT station in north Bangkok was also shut.
Proving themselves nimble and elusive, at least 100 anti-coup protesters popped up unexpectedly at Terminal 21 shopping mall, near the busy Asoke intersection on Sukhumvit Road. Here they revealed a new salute of defiance: raising the arm with three fingers held high. Borrowed from the book/movie, The Hunger Games, the salute reportedly stands for liberty, equality and peace.
Within minutes, dozens of soldiers and a few armoured vehicles with mounted machine guns converged on the area. Both Terminal 21 and Asok BTS station were closed as many tourists stood around confused. A tense standoff ended peacefully, though several news outlets have reported that a woman was forced into a taxi by plain clothes police officers. Details of the event, which was captured in a distressing video, remain murky.
Small anti-coup protests were also reported at Democracy Monument, Wat Pho and near the Grand Palace in Bangkok’s historic Rattanakosin district. A crowd of protesters near Bangkok Art & Culture Centre and MBK shopping mall left after soldiers flooded the adjacent skywalk. It’s important to note that none of these places should be generally avoided, as no sustained protests are taking place anywhere. Only small and brief protests were reported elsewhere in Thailand.
Anti-coup protesters seem to be increasingly focused on areas popular with foreign travellers. Plans are never announced in advance, creating a far more unpredictable situation than when anti-government protesters were camped in clearly defined areas from late last year until the military seized power on May 22. A protester reportedly told the Bangkok Post that “future rallies will take place in areas with many foreign tourists.”
Last Friday evening, a televised speech by junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha made it clear that Thailand will only return to democracy after rival parties have reconciled and unspecified reforms successfully implemented. No firm date was announced for an election, though the general mentioned a broad timeframe of up to 18 months. Clearly, the military are in it for the long haul.
In most of the country, and on most days in Bangkok, life has continued largely as normal despite the uncertainty. Now running from midnight to 04:00 (rather than the initial 22:00 to 05:00), the curfew continues to hamper nightlife while threatening the next full moon party planned for June 12 on Ko Pha Ngan. The Phuket Wan reported today that the curfew is likely to be lifted soon in some tourist areas.
Bangkok’s BTS and MRT mass transit systems are now closing at 23:00, one hour earlier than normal. All airports and long-distance buses and trains continue to operate as normal. After months of working in makeshift offices, Bangkok immigration reopened in its normal Government Complex facilities today.
The junta continues to suppress media and academia while maintaining a directive that officially bans criticism of the coup. Along with politicians and activists, some journalists and academics continue to appear on lists of people summoned for temporary detainment or worse. Local news channels are forced to self-censor, while international stations like the BBC and CNN remain blocked.
Some writers have reacted by passively hinting at their opinions in unexpected places. A film critic ended a review of the latest King Naresuan movie with, “If you find this review boring, sorry, but that’s my feeling thinking about the film, too. Thinking is still allowed, I believe, in this place and time.” Editorials in both of Bangkok’s English dailies have slowly begun to test the limits. The Nation declared:
(The junta) could really use a crash course on anxiety control and media relations … Reconciliation cannot come from military directives.
On the issue of censorship, the Bangkok Post added:
Every order by the military to stop criticising them brings another massive round of texts, messages and postings. Freedom of speech and the press are highly prized values in our country. A regime that imposes the least censorship will get the most Facebook likes.
Some have consistently aired their dissent by silently reading George Orwell’s 1984 at public places in Bangkok. The clever “read-ins” have received loads of coverage on social media and elsewhere, without actually defying any of the junta’s commands.
According to an AP report, 330 websites and many individual webpages have been blocked so far, including the Thailand page of Human Rights Watch’s website. Facebook was down for over an hour last week, causing an uproar in a country where social media is extremely popular. The military blamed it on a technical glitch and has insisted it has no policy to implement a blanket blockage on any social media. While writing this piece, we found that several previously bookmarked pages had since been blocked.
Adding to a growing chorus of international condemnation, Australia has formerly reduced its engagement with Thailand and barred Thai junta leaders from travelling down under. The EU also warned last week that its “continued support” of Thailand is under threat. 62 countries have issued travel advisories, 19 of them advising against any unnecessary travel to Thailand. Still, many Thais believe that the military is their best hope to return peace and stability to a country that has endured nearly a decade of off-and-on political turmoil.
Though no armed resistance has emerged as of yet, stockades of weapons believed to belong to militant “red shirts” who likely support the ousted Pheu Thai party continue to be discovered. Reports are also surfacing of brewing anger in the north and northeast, populous rural regions where ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawtra and her allies enjoy widespread support. Further peaceful resistance is assured, while the threat of an armed insurgency is very real.
As of today, we still would not cancel a trip to Thailand, but those wanting to play it safe might skip Bangkok and head to the southern islands or northern mountains instead. In any case, we recommend that travellers check in with this thread on the Thai coup in the Travelfish forum as well as the Travelfish Facebook page and a Twitter feed that’s live on the Travelfish homepage, while also checking in with the following media outlets.
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