Thai Tensions Escalate as Protests Gain Momentum

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Thai Tensions Escalate as Protests Gain Momentum

Yellow Shirts lash out against Yingluck, Thaksin, and one unfortunate journalist.

Bangkok is on course for another bruising. After months of anxiety and speculation over the Thai government’s insistence on passing its controversial amnesty bill, more than 100,000 people have taken to the streets demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

One journalist was beaten by an angry mob of Yellow Shirt led protestors as they geared up and marched on government ministries, declaring Yingluck was little more than a proxy for her brother Thaksin, the former leader who fled after being ousted by a coup in 2006.

Yingluck’s response was to impose a security crackdown, the Internal Security Act, which grants police additional powers to block protest routes, impose curfews, ban gatherings and carry out searches amid fears of a repeat of the 2010 violence that left more than 90 people dead.

Thaksin has counted on and fueled Red Shirt rallies since fleeing, polarizing Thai society and pitting his forces against the Yellow Shirts, who claim a special allegiance to Thai royalty. The former prime minister has been found guilty of corruption and was sentenced to two years in jail while living in exile.

That exile appeared to be coming to an end when Yingluck and her ruling Phue Thai Party introduced a blanket amnesty bill which would pardon all people involved in political protests from January 1, 2004 to August 8, 2013, angering many who have lost loved ones in the violence.

The bill was passed by the Lower House of Parliament, but was then rejected unanimously in the Senate earlier this month amid promises by the government that it would drop the legislation.

Those promises failed to appease anti-government forces, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. Yellow Shirts have maintained a permanent camp of small numbers in the capital’s Lumpini Park, but protests began gaining traction on Sunday and are now entering their third day Tuesday.

Journalist Nick Nostitz was apparently beaten after a speaker on stage pointed him out in a crowd and claimed he was a reporter working for the Red Shirts. The speaker then allegedly urged the crowd to turn on Nostitz and kick him out.

His beating has caused a sensation on social media.

However, threats of a further escalation over the coming week could be limited by the approaching birthday of Thailand’s revered monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej on December 5. As one long-term observer said, “Nobody wants to be seen as causing trouble immediately before the King’s birthday.”

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.