The government will be within its rights to crack down on the extreme threats and tactics of the demonstrators
It was clear from yesterday’s chaos that red-shirted anti-government protesters and their masterminds want to bring total destruction to Bangkok and its surrounding area, regardless of the rule of law and the state of emergency declared by the administration on Sunday. They have held Bangkokians hostage on the auspicious occasion of the traditional Thai New Year. They have literally transformed ordinary protesters into thugs and terrorists.
The government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has announced repeatedly on television and radio the rules of engagement to be used against the protesters. The strategy involves a step-by-step approach, which sounds a far cry from the previous government’s handling of demonstrators and riots.
Abhisit said that following the violent attacks by red shirts in Pattaya, where the Asean summits were being held, the protesters had moved back to Bangkok and continued to ignore all pleas for them to respect law and order. They have erected blockades, caused traffic jams and cut off major roads.
A state of emergency has been declared in Bangkok and five other provinces.
The government has urged passers-by and protesters to go home because the security forces will be moving into the affected areas to restore law and order and allow traffic to pass. The prime minister said some protesters had driven buses and liquefied-gas tankers in front of key intersections. Furthermore, they have poured petrol along some roads, with ignition devices tied to some protesters’ bodies.
The government says such tactics are not being carried out by ordinary protesters; they are being perpetrated by people who are trained in sabotage. No other explanation can apply to blockades using buses, gas tankers and the threat of causing explosions using petrol. The red shirts consistently threaten to ignite the gas if the government does not bow to their demands.
At the Din Daeng intersection, red-shirted protesters drove several buses and liquefied-gas tankers into strategic locations. But the actions of the red shirts have attracted the ire of local people there. Din Daeng residents have organised themselves, and they attempted to move one gas tanker from the road in front of their apartment building. The security forces must ensure that the two sides do not clash.
These patterns and threats must be considered as calculated acts of sabotage, carried out with a well-planned and coordinated plan to cause maximum casualties. By adopting these extreme strategies, the red-shirted protesters have turned themselves into urban terrorists.
If they carry out any of their threats using these methods, the government’s security forces should take the maximum measures to deal with them.
Throughout yesterday, government ministers and the top brass from the Army and police tried to consolidate their position and come up with measures to counter these terrorist acts. They also squashed rumours that the military and police were split and did not support the government. They appeared together on television when Abhisit reported on the latest development.
Investigations must proceed immediately into why the gas tankers were allowed to be driven into these urban areas at great risk to the public. One of the gas tankers was found to belong to Siam Gas and Petrochemicals Plc, which is chaired by former Armed Forces Supreme Commander Chaisit Shinawatra, a cousin of Thaksin. However, Chaisit yesterday denied any involvement in the incident.
Over the past two days, Abhisit has quickly reasserted his leadership. He has taken over the handling of the crisis after his soft approach, which did not work, was much criticised. He has only a very short time, until Wednesday, before Thais return to Bangkok from the week-long Songkran celebration. He must rein in the red shirts now. The newly established Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations will help the security forces, which have been assigned to restore law and order and end the blockades of several important roads and intersections.
If Abhisit succeeds, he will emerge as a stronger leader and will gain more respect. For the public, they have witnessed how unruly the red-shirted protesters have become. They will support stronger measures, within the confines of the law, to bring peace and security back to the city. The authorities have called on the Thai people to inform the authorities if there are any suspicious developments in their neighbourhoods.
The next day or two will be crucial for the current survival of Thai democracy. Abhisit must not shy away from using strong measures to deal with potential and actual acts of sabotage. He must act promptly and put public safety and the protection of infrastructure such as airports, train stations and bus terminals, at the top of his list of priorities.
The Nation / Opinion