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May. 24 2010 - 10:29 am | 255 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

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.

In addition:

-       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.


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  1. collapse expand

    MP,

    Thanks for this footage. I;d love to see a comparison of the coverage of the Thai rebellion and the Iranian rebellion. I wonder if you could compare how one was waited compared to the other. The major issue for me, however, is that I knew a lot about the Iranian ruling government, but I know little about the Thai government that was being rebelled against. This could be my own lack of investigation, but I also think that before this uprising, Thailand was painted as a pretty peaceful and touristy location. Iran was never that way.

    • collapse expand

      Hi Nick – thanks for the comment.

      Thailand is most definitely painted as its official slogan suggests: the “land of smiles.” I think part of the enormous backlash against CNN and the BBC is a shoot-the-messenger mentality from people heartbroken about what happened, but lacking the courage for a little self-examination. (As noted by a friend: where were the Thai broadcasters during this?)

      Having said that, Thailand’s politics are a lot of get one’s head around. The Yellows vs the Reds. Read the piece by Karuna B, in the links above.

      There’s a generational shift going on between old Thailand and new Thailand; no one is innocent and no one is entirely decent – and there’s always been HUGE amounts of corruption.

      Yellow vs Red boils down to competing populist narratives for power-hungry folks.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist and writer who has recently returned to the US after 17 years living overseas, primarily in Southeast Asia.

    In 1992, I went to Cambodia – then at the height of the UNTAC peacekeeping mission - to cut my teeth on journalism.

    ….I was in Hong Kong, for the 1997 Handover to Chinese rule; and then it was off to

    …..Indonesia - for the fall of President Suharto in 1998, through the the reformasi movement; the East Timor conflict, its independence ballot and peacekeeping mission; the fallout from September 11th in “the world’s most populous Muslim nation” and the Bali bomb, and myriad points in-between during a five and a half year span;

    …. and onwards to India, where I was Voice of America radio/television correspondent for South Asia between 2003 and 2006, which included rotations in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with my “patch” of India, including Kashmir; Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

    I’ve freelanced my way in and out of Bosnia, Burma, Egypt, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand. I’ve also filed out of Vietnam and Malaysia.

    My name is Mary Patricia Nunan, and I vastly prefer “MP.” If you’ve heard me on the radio or seen me on tv – NPR, VOA, CBC, BBC or others -- it would have been as “Patricia Nunan.” I’ve never had much use for the “Mary.”

    See my profile »
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    Contributor Since: August 2009
    Location:New York City