A THAI LAMENTS: “Our darkest hour”

PHUKET: The saddest thing is everyone had predicted this and there were so many opportunities to prevent it. In the end, either the curse was too strong or the dark wills of some of those involved to see it happen simply overwhelmed efforts to stop it from happening.

A nation that once thought it had matured learned the hardest way that it hadn’t.

In terms of cruelty, October 6, 1976 was worse. And yesterday’s death toll was lower than most previous political turmoil. It’s the way a divided Thailand rolled relentlessly towards yesterday that exposed a national flaw bigger than the ones causing the previous tragedies.

Despite everything – modern education, better political knowledge and everyone’s claim to have “democracy” at heart – nothing could stop the bloodbath. And if rumours last night about a coup in the making come true, then the big wounds inflicted yesterday will only be aggravated.

It started off like a ceasefire day, with red-shirt protesters mulling a return to the Thaicom uplink station in Pathum Thani after PTV was taken off the air again on Friday night. Then skirmishes began near the Phan Fa Bridge between protesters and soldiers at the First Army Region headquarters, and soon after that tension escalated as troops formed lines to try to edge red shirts from the streets. Water cannon and tear gas were used, baton charges initiated, and finally rubber bullets fired.

The troops’ mission, as the government declared later in the afternoon, was to “reclaim” public spaces as authorised under the state of emergency. The red shirts put up tough resistance, resulting in new skirmishes, which grew more violent as the hours passed. But our worst tragedy in 18 years took place at the Khok Wua intersection.

The government said troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas, whereas demonstrators fought back with guns, grenades and petrol bombs.

Embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva last night vowed to carry on and insisted that people must not jump to conclusions regarding who was to blame for the casualties. He promised an independent investigation and pledged that he would never allow personal interests to get in the way of government attempts to resolve what has become our biggest and bloodiest crisis in modern times.

With everyone equipped with better tools to record the violence, evidence will pour in over the next few days. Yet finger-pointing has already begun.

The body of a red-shirted guard was carried onto the Phan Fa stage last night, as leaders of the movement tried to settle among themselves what should be their next move. Some wanted to “bring on the war”, but others solemnly admitted that the losses were enough.

Calls for both warring parties to “stop immediately” were coming from all directions. Abhisit, if he manages to survive what promises to be a staggering backlash in the next few days, will be first under pressure to reconsider the state of emergency.

The heavy weight of the losses will also be measured against the inconvenience, economic turmoil, and defiance of the red shirts. Previous government tolerance, displayed to the point that Abhisit was ridiculed for being weak, may not help his case much after all.

The uncertainties, however, are outweighed by the sad truth that the division that culminated in last night’s bloodbath will only deepen. A TV program last night that was supposed to find a way for Thailand to dig itself out of the current tragic impasse erupted into a blame game, with one side calling on the premier to show responsibility and the other saying the prelude to the clash must also be taken into account.

Talks will be renewed and the force of peace may have its rare chance to prevail. But even optimists cannot believe that an actual healing process can really begin any time soon. The nation, however, has no choice but to try.

— The Nation

Phuket News
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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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