Chiang Mai’s red shirts grow increasingly thuggish

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The Rak Chiang Mai 51 has chalked up a long list of violent incidents and given the city a really bad name.  But I can’t help wondering how Chiang Mai’s residents, famous for their friendliness and hospitality, can tolerate this trouble-making gang without complaining?

Following his much-publicised visit to Buri Ram on July 11, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced over the weekend he would soon visit Chiang Mai to follow up implementation of the government-sponsored Thai Khem Kheng development projects. He said his planned tour was not intended to further sow the seed of divisiveness in society but just part of his duties as prime minister.

And as prime minister, Mr Abhisit has the legitimate right, as do other Thai citizens, to go anywhere in this country – whether it is to the Northeast or to  the North, which are considered the political territories of the opposition Puea Thai Party. Likewise, any Puea Thai MP or core leader of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship can freely visit any province in the South which is considered Democrat turf without fear of intimidation or coercion from the locals. But I doubt the red shirt mob of the Rak Chiang Mai 51 will give Mr Abhisit a peaceful and trouble-free visit given their fierce opposition to the Democrats, their thuggish conduct and inclination towards violence.

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Just one day before the prime minister announced his forthcoming visit to Chiang Mai, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij of the Democrat Party and Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai of the Bhumjaithai Party who were visiting the northern capital to hold talks with local businessmen on how the government could help in boosting the ailing tourism industry had to run the gauntlet of Rak Chiang Mai 51’s red shirt thugs.

Shortly before their arrival in Chiang Mai on Thursday, a red shirt supporter identified as Niyom Luangcharoen was stopped by police as he was driving into the provincial airport. A search of his pick-up truck found an unlicensed .45-calibre pistol. Niyom was immediately booked on a charge of illegal possession of firearms and taken to Phuping Ratchanives police station.

When news of Niyom’s arrest reached the Rak Chiang Mai 51 group, their community radio, 99.25 MHz, urged red shirt supporters to head for the police station to demand the unconditional release of the suspect. A few hundred showed up and laid siege to the station while police called for reinforcements. The confrontation eventually turned ugly with the red shirt mob throwing missiles, firing slingshots at the police and damaging police cars. Five gunshots were heard but, luckily, no one was hurt. When the trouble ended after police successfully dispersed the mob, 13 police officers were left injured, mostly from missiles, and five cars were damaged.

VIDEO Of the violent clash in CM

Thaksin Supporters Clash with Police in Northern Thailand

Niyom was released on bail the next day, but the red shirt mob remained unperturbed and went on with their protest against Finance Minister Korn at Chiangmai University, apparently urged on by hate statements from their community radio. Violent confrontation ensued as the red shirt thugs tried unsuccessfully to break through a police cordon to get into the campus. During the clash, huge firecrackers were allegedly lobbed at the police by the protesters. But as always with all the violent incidents perpetrated by Chiang Mai’s red shirt mob, not a single red shirt was arrested at the scene. Police said they were collecting evidence to seek the arrest of the troublemakers. But will that ever happen? I doubt it.

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Personally, I feel the notorious Rak Chiang Mai 51 mob feels and believes it is beyond the reach of the law and the police themselves are reluctant to touch it. Which explains why the mob has increasingly become more emboldened in defying the law and bullying its opponents, real or perceived.

On July 6, Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai of the Democrat Party had to cut short his visit to the Wiang Ping hospital in Chiang Mai and run for his life out of the back door under tight police security after the same red shirt mob laid siege to the hospital demanding his expulsion from the city. Again, the 99.25 MHz radio station was instrumental in inciting the mob.

Although founded only about one year ago, the Rak Chiang Mai 51 has chalked up a long list of violent incidents and given the city a really bad name. But I can’t help wondering how Chiang Mai’s residents, famous for their friendliness and hospitality, can tolerate this trouble-making gang without complaining? Or have the majority of the people been cowed by them? But no matter how much the Rak Chiang Mai 51 mob is loathed and despised for its thuggish behaviour and inclination for violence, there is one Puea Thai MP who appears to appreciate and salute the mob’s latest act in the northern capital.

Sa-nguan Pongmanee of Lamphun said it was the government which provoked the Chiang Mai red shirts in the first place for making a visit to the province knowing it would cause resentment and also bringing with them an army of police guards.

“What will happen from now on is that the people in every area have the legitimacy to rise up against the government because the government has chosen to cause violence with the forces in their hands without any reason. This amounts to declaring war on the people. The government is being provocative – the deployment of a large contingent of forces to protect the ministers is completely nonsense,” the Puea Thai MP was quoted to have said.

I have no comment for Mr Sa-nguan’s statement. But I hope other Puea Thai MPs do not share his twisted mentality which requires immediate psychiatric counselling

Veera Prateepchaikul

The Nation / Opinion

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