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Thailand's government orders bloody crackdown on protesters
A TWO-month stand-off between Thailand's government and thousands of opposition 'Red Shirt' protesters encamped in the commercial district of Bangkok appears to be heading for a bloody showdown.
Many deaths have been reported and hundreds injured following the escalation of violence on 13 May when red shirt renegade general Khattiya Sawasdipol, 'Commander Red', was shot and fatally wounded by a sniper round.
Thai soldiers have surrounded the red shirts' camp and have ominously declared the area a "live firing zone". The government has tried to cut off water and electricity to the camp to dislodge the protesters who are demanding the resignation of the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva and fresh parliamentary elections.
The PM has also declared a state of emergency in 22 provinces across the country in order to stop more red shirt demonstrators heading to the capital.
Tourism, an important source of Thailand's revenue, is being hard hit by the current political crisis. This is on top of the economy contracting by 3.5% last year due to the world recession.
Many of the protesters support former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire tycoon and former owner of Manchester City FC, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
Although a rich capitalist, Thaksin, following his election in 2001, introduced some populist anti-poverty and healthcare programmes aimed at the impoverished rural majority.
At first, multinational cor-porations and local industrialists had regarded Thaksin as the best defender of the 'free market' in Thailand.
But apprehension among some national capitalists and elite figures grew when his government slid into authoritarianism and cronyism, and their business interests were ignored. Thai royalists' unhappiness also hinged on Thaksin's alleged disrespect of the king.
The conflicts between them and Thaksin became greater when Thaksin and his family were implicated in a telecommunications scandal in 2006.
Protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - the 'Yellow Shirts' - in 2006 resulted in a mil-itary coup on 19 September that year which overthrew Thaksin's government while he was abroad.
Thaksin was convicted in absentia in 2008 for tax evasion and sen-tenced to two years in prison. Thaksin is alleged to have bankrolled the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, aka the Red Shirts.
The PAD or yellow shirts were led by other tycoons, conservative army chiefs and monarchists and supported by the wealthy middle and upper classes.
When a pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) coalition won the post-coup 2007 general election the PAD resumed its protests and laid siege to government buildings and the international airport, costing the economy up to $4 billion in lost revenues.
The protests, after some bloodshed, only ended when the constitutional court in December 2008 dissolved the PPP, banned its leaders from politics, and a number of PPP MPs and others from their coalition were pressured into defecting to the Democrat Party and elected Abhisit Vejjajiva as premier.
Although the red shirt movement draws its main support from the rural poor, the recent anti-government protests "have brought together farmers from the rural north east, Bankok's urban working classes and democracy activists to call for the resignation of Abhisit Vejjajiva" (Financial Times 9/4/10).
The same article refers to the deep social discontent in Thailand, exposing the country's social faultlines. "A class of farmers and industrial workers empowered by higher incomes and better education is clamouring for a greater say in how the country is run, challenging the traditional ruling elite."
Likewise the International Herald Tribune reported: "Thailand is convulsed by a bitter struggle between the nation's elite and its disenfranchised poor, played out in protests that have paralyzed Bangkok for weeks" (10/5/10).
Whether the army will succeed in cowering the protests or spark a wider protest movement at this stage is unclear.
However, the task facing the urban and rural workers is the urgent need to build a mass party of the working class and poor farmers with socialist policies, to unite the oppressed class for common struggle against the incapacity of capitalism in Thailand to assure them the basics of a decent life.
In The Socialist 19 May 2010:
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party election analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news