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Phuket Reds Turn Up the Heat in Bangkok

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
News Analysis

PHUKET red shirt protesters are planning to be part of the weekend's big show in Bangkok and it will probably make or break their campaign.

Leaders of the demonstration are hoping to amass a crowd that will ''paralyse Bangkok.''

Whether this is a civil and sensible way to make a claim for a better democracy remains to be seen.

Some of the troops have now been armed. The patience of Bangkok residents has to be wearing a little thin.

Yet Phuket protest leader Sunthorn Toema is certainly committed to change, along with about 30 or 40 people from the island who have stayed in the capital. About 500 made the journey from Phuket at the start.

Khun Sunthorn sold his car for about 500,000 baht and is using the money to support himself and others in the protest. The rival yellow movement, it should be remembered, staged a long sit-in at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2008 that helped to topple a ''red'' government.

As in any struggle for supremacy, in peace or in war, supply lines become essential to maintain the battle. The yellows certainly had great support in 2008 and Khun Sunthorn is hoping the reds can maintain their necessities in 2010.

The first 100,000 baht from the sale of his vehicle has gone in his 12 days so far at the frontline in Bangkok.

''Never mind,'' he told Phuketwan by telephone. ''I still have 400,000 baht left.''

Donations of food and money are always welcome, he added.

The red machine supporting the protest manages to supply demonstrators with rice but they have to find water, gas for cooking, pans, and other needs.

Life on the streets is never easy, even when you have plenty of company. Exactly how much company Khun Sunthorn has remains a matter of contention.

Most news outlets agreed that about 65,000 protesters took part in last Saturday's snaking parade through Bangkok.

Khun Sunthorn reckons there are about 100,000 red supporters in Bangkok now, which may be higher than most estimates.

Whatever the number, the reds are still very much in the game, waiting for the government to resign and call an election.

But the government now appears to have the upper hand, patiently waiting for the reds to grow weary and go home.

And if that doesn't happen, the residents of Bangkok can probably be expected to make their feelings known before too much longer.

Will the people of the capital join the protest in vast numbers, boosting the reds to the point where their call becomes irresistible? Or will they turn against the demonstrators, and advise them to go home?

It will be an anxious week for Khun Sunthorn.

We hope he puts enough money aside for a second-hand Mira. That's about all you need to get around on Phuket.

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