Backstage at the Crackdown
The Thai government cracked down on anti-government rioters known as the “Red Shirts” on May 19, 2010 — this is my view from “backstage.”
By government accounts, 52 people were killed during the operation and hundreds were injured. That’s in addition to 37 killed in a failed crackdown on April 10th. (Among the dead are two foreign journalists; while at least four foreign journalists and three Thai journalists were wounded.)
It’s important to note, on the edges of the roughly 6 square mile protest zone in central Bangkok, troops spent days clashing with Red Shirt hardliners, some of whom were armed. In the very center – on an intersection called Rajaprasong, the protests were peaceful. Many were families from Isaan, Thailand’s rural northeast.
In the post-crackdown hangover, there’s been a backlash at the Western press – particularly CNN and the BBC - for the coverage of the Red Shirt protests and the military action. Some seem to think the coverage was weighted in favor of the Red Shirts, and it’s generating some conspiracy theories.
Because of this shoot-the-messenger paranoia, a quick what-should-be-obvious disclaimer for any Thailand-based readership.
- this blog post does not claim to represent every nuance of the arguably 9 years of politics leading up to the May 19, 2010 crackdown and rioting. It is what it says it is: a view from “backstage” during it.
- Because I was 17 floors up in a building at the time of the military’s final push into the center of the Red Shirt camp in Rajaprasong, one should not assume that all foreign media were. Plenty of news organizations had correspondents on the ground with the Thai military.
- While troops entered the Rajaprasong intersection area without any real resistance, a clash erupted near the Wat Prathunam temple – where many peaceful protesters had taken refuge – later that day. This has led to questions as whether the army purposefully targeted civilians in a humanitarian zone, in what may prove to be the most controversial moments of the crackdown. Read The Independent’s Andrew Buncombe’s account of the incident and how he was wounded there.
- Please read Thai journalist Karuna Buakamsri’s account of a Red Shirt mob’s attempts to burn down Thai Channel 3.
- For more on Thailand’s byzantine politics, watch my last video blog; read this Reuters “what’s next?” story; this Asia Sentinel piece, or an excellent BBC analysis. There are many other solid accounts and analyses.
- Please forgive the shoddy camera-work. This was me playing with a Flip camera on the sidelines of my real reporting, contributing to National Public Radio and SBS Australia.
- My thanks to my friend and colleague Adrian Callan for use of his photos, many more of which are viewable on Flickr.