Thomas Fuller, with Seth Mydans and Kirk Semple, wrote in the New York Times, published on May 19.  The article reports the fact that, as soon as the protest leaders turned themselves in with the Police, angry protesters were at their peak for destruction.  The results were catastrophic, with a low number of killed bodies.  I personally feel that the report is accurate and fair to both sides.

Here are some excerpts:

Violence Spreads in Thailand After Crackdown

By THOMAS FULLER, SETH MYDANS and KIRK SEMPLE

This article was reported by Thomas Fuller, Seth Mydans and Kirk Semple and written by Mr. Fuller.

BANGKOK — A bloody crackdown in Bangkok by the Thai military set off rioting and arson attacks on Wednesday in several places across Thailand, threatening to expand unrest and further aggravate the deep rifts that have hobbled Thai society for the past four years.

Troops and armored military vehicles overcame grenade-wielding militants allied with antigovernment protesters in Bangkok, forcing the movement’s leaders to turn themselves in to the police.

The government declared a curfew in 24 of the country’s 76 provinces, a radical move underlined by its announcement that looters or arsonists would be shot.

Arsonists in Bangkok set fire to almost 30 buildings, the government said, including the country’s stock exchange, a massive shopping mall, two banks, a movie theater and a television station. Two city halls were set on fire in the provincial capitals when thousands of protesters reacted to news of the Bangkok crackdown.

It was a measure of Thailand’s spiraling political violence that the death toll in the crackdown — about 12 people killed and more than 60 injured — was less than the bloodbath that many had feared.

The leaders of the red shirts, who had roared into Bangkok on March 12 demanding news elections and calling for what they said was true democracy for the country, surrendered to the police on Wednesday afternoon to face charges of terrorism.

Their arrests and the dispersal of the crowd were rare victories for the embattled government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. But the volatile, defiant mood of the crowd on Wednesday also signaled a possible radicalization of a movement that leaders found difficult to control.

“We cannot resist against these savages anymore,” Jatuporn Prompan, one of the leaders, said on a stage inside the protest zone before turning himself in. He was booed by protesters who wanted to carry on.

“Please listen to me!” he pleaded to the crowd. “Brothers and sisters, I will use the word ‘beg.’ I beg you. We have to end this for now.” The call was not heeded, and protesters began setting nearby buildings ablaze.

Soldiers assaulting the upscale neighborhood where protesters had been gathered were repelled with grenades. One soldier said militants were firing the weapons from the high floors of apartment buildings in the area.

The crackdown began Wednesday morning after weeks of negotiations failed to disperse protesters, many of whom are followers of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup. Soldiers clashed with militants, some of whom were armed with assault weapons. As troops approached, anxiety spread through the protest zone, which was in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Bangkok and home to many corporate headquarters, high-end shopping malls, luxury hotels and high-rise apartment buildings.

Protesters set fire to Central World, one of the largest department stores in Southeast Asia. On Thursday morning the mall was a blackened, smoldering skeleton. Some people in the area carried boxes of cellphones and other electronics, presumably from the mall.

Looting was also reported in other parts of the city. Protesters attacked several news outlets, which they accused of bias, forcing one television station off the air.

Go to read full report at NYTimes.com.

Arismun Pongruengrong, a Red Shirt leader, in April 2009 led demonstrators forcing their way into a hotel where Asian leaders were to meet. The action prompted the indefinite postponement of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the southern coastal city of Pattaya.   He spoke on the Red Shirt stage and urged the protesters to bring from home a bottle to stock one liter of petrol each. With a million protesters, it is easy to set fire in Bangkok in order to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fires”.

He was arrested last year, being charged with inciting people to break the law, police said. He was later set free. This year,  he went further, asking Red Shirts to burn down the whole of Bangkok.

Reungvit Nandhabiwat writes in his blog:

This is going to be a long note, but I want my overseas friends to
understand what has been happening here in Thailand. You would only
see the soldiers’ shooting scenes or injured people being carried away
on international TV channels for 30 seconds, but never got to know
about the background. The truth is, the Thai government has been too
accommodating by withholding the use of force since the rally started
2 months ago (with the exception of 10th April event, when the
soldiers were ordered to move in without live weapons and subsequently
got slaughtered by unknown gunmen shooting from the ‘Red Shirt’
protesters).

Read full article.

May 17, 2010.  This tv interview from Al Jazeera TV (in Malaysia) is another must-see clip.    Al Jazeera’s anchor woman asked Robert Amsterdam (in Hong Kong), an international lawyer acting on behalf of Thaksin Shinawatra: is Thaksin funding this protest, and how much he spent on it etc.

Listen carefully at 3:51 in the clip.
Anchor: Are the protesters paid for by Mr.Thaksin?
Amsterdam: Ab..  Absolutely not.

Thanks to Suthichai Yoon of the Nation for posting the clip on May 18th in his blog.

Thaksin’s message appeared on CNN.com only half an hour before the Red Shirt leaders turned themselves in with the Thai Police.  The statement below is a total contradiction with what he talked to the Red Shirt gathering in January, 2010.  In addition, one of the Red Shirt supporters also admit publicly with the Bangkok Post that the Red Shirt (UDD) protest funds come from Thaksin.  Is CNN reporting a white lie?  Please find out for yourself and enjoy readers’ comments at the CNN website.


http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/05/19/thailand.thaksin/index.html

Thaksin: I am not Red Shirt leader

May 19, 2010 — Updated 0624 GMT (1424 HKT)

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Wednesday he was not the leader of the United Front for Democracy, the formal name of the Red Shirt opposition, and that their movement calling for new elections is not on his behalf.

“They did not demand anything for me or on my behalf. I am not UDD leader,” he said. ” Any negotiation to end the demonstration or conflict must be made between the government and UDD leaders. I have no authority to negotiate on behalf of the UDD.”

The anti-government protesters support Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 bloodless military coup and who fled the country to avoid a corruption trial.

In a statement, Thaksin accused the Thai government of defaming him when it said he was the mastermind behind the violence in the country’s ongoing political crisis.

“I never approve nor agree to any use of violence,” he said. “I believe in peace. I love my country as much as any member of this government. I believe in peaceful and non-violent means to end conflict and reject any use of force. If there is any act of terrorism, it is the duty of this government to find the wrongdoer and prosecute them in the court of law.”

He urged the government to not resort to violence to disperse the protesters.

(Click the image to view the picture of the website).

In his televised phone-in speech to the red-shirt gathering in January 2010, Thaksin Shinawatra announced plan to set up displaced government.  He emphatically lead the red-shirt protesters to fight against a coup, if there would be one.

Dear brothers, your dedication, your patience, your sacrifice, will not go to waste.  You will certainly win back democracy, so that our children will have a better future.

I am ready to stand side by side with you and fight, whatever will happen to me.  I will never be accused of giving up fighting, at whatever cost.  So I am not losing heart.  Today I really have to thank you for your dedication.

For the latest news, one of my fan clubs has phoned to tell me that SehDaeng  (Maj-Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol aka Seh Daeng) will join the meeting at Soi Dao.  I have to admire his determination.  After what he has been through, he is still resolved to be by our side.  No one will step back.

If we fight together like this, I will never step back.  If a coup takes place, I will not step back.  Brothers, you must not step back.  The coup maker will have to answer to us.  Brothers, you fight in Thailand, I will set up a displaced government abroad. Fight we will.

Full transcription of Thaksin Shinawatra’s speech (in Thai):

พี่น้องที่เคารพครับ
ความทุ่มเทของพี่น้อง ความอดทนเสียสละของพี่น้อง จะไม่สูญเปล่าครับ พี่น้องจะได้ประชาธิปไตยกลับคืนไป ให้ลูกหลานของเรามีอนาคตที่ดีแน่นอน  ผมพร้อมจะเคียงบ่าเคียงไหล่ จะต่อสู้ ไม่ว่าอะไรจะเกิดขึ้นกับผม ผมไม่มีคำว่า “เลิกสู้” ไม่ว่าจะเป็นอะไรทั้งสิ้น

เพราะฉะนั้น พี่น้องครับ  ผมไม่ได้หวั่นไหวครับ วันนี้ ต้องขอขอบคุณจริงๆ สำหรับความเสียสละอีกครั้งหนึ่ง  ..ล่าสุด มีแฟนคลับโทรมาบอกผมว่า เสแดง คืนนี้ก็จะยังมาร่วมที่สอยดาวด้วย  ต้องยอมรับว่าใจเขาแน่มาก โดนจนขนาดนี้แล้วยังยืนเคียงบ่าเคียงไหล่สู้กัน ถ้าอย่างนี้ ไม่มีใครถอยอ่ะครับ

พวกเราสู้กันอย่างนี้ ไม่มีใครถอย ผมไม่ถอยแน่นอนครับ ผมไม่ถอยแน่นอนครับ ให้ปฏิวัติก็ไม่ถอยครับ พี่น้องอย่าถอย หากปฏิวัติแล้วได้เจอกันแน่นะครับ  พี่น้องสู้ที่เมืองไทย ผมจัดตั้งรัฐบาลพลัดถิ่นที่เมืองนอก สู้กัน

Nattawut Saikua, UDD Secretary-General, said on the red-shirt stage on May 19, “If you gain control, we will burn places all over Thailand”.
(Cheers)

He said further, “Brothers and sisters, you go to burn down, I will be responsible for it myself.”
(Cheers and claps).

“Anyone who want to arrest us, come to me.”

“If you set up coup d’etat, (we will) burn down!”

As from 1pm of May 19, 2010 till the following morning, more than 30 places all over the country have been attacked by protesters: smash, loot, and burn down.   Just like what Nattawut said on stage.  Among all of the big losses, two of Thailand’s largest shopping centers: Central World and Siam Square were largely destroyed by the fire.  Fire engines and firemen were prevented from accessing the sites because of Red Shirt snipers shooting on people.  Since then, thousands of photographs and videos have been uploaded to the Internet for access.  May 19 is the saddest day of Thailand ever.

View Photo Collection

Central World building on fire, 19th May 2010.