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Phuket Reinforcements Raise the Reds' Risks

Thursday, March 18, 2010
RED SHIRT ''reinforcements'' have arrived in Bangkok from Phuket, an indication that the mass protest is scheduled to continue and may not come to a trouble-free end.

Unease was building in the capital as the protest headed towards its seventh day tomorrow. While the stand-off has been peaceful so far, at some point the protesters must go home - or be made to go home.

Demonstrators in Bangkok last April were eventually driven from the capital by angry residents who decided they'd had enough. There were two deaths and a reaction among international travellers that has yet to see Bangkok fully recover its allure.

The same outcome is likely if red shirt protesters pursue their stated desire to remain in Bangkok until the government falls, especially if the strategy involves sending reinforcements from the provinces to replace those who are weary of protesting or have other commitments.

While PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he is willing to listen to the protesters, he has made it plain that he has intention of resigning.

Phuket protest leader Sunthorn Toema was among the group of about 500 from the island who were said to have joined the protest.

He said today that the red shirts were ''hoping for a visit from the Prime Minister, or we could go to visit him, if he prefers, at Parliament.''

The Phuket red shirt leader estimated today's crowd at 300,000 and at more than one million on Saturday. Those figures are about 10 times the estimates of most onlookers.

Khun Sunthorn said: ''About 20 red shirts have come to Bangkok from Phuket today and others have gone back to the island.

''We want the Prime Minister to stop working and hold a new election.

''The people in Bangkok are upset because the traffic is blocked and they can't get to work. As soon as the prime minister resigns, their problems will be solved.''

Khun Sunthorn could not say what other activities the red shirts might undertake as the protest continues.

He said he was in Bangkok for democracy. ''I haven't received one single baht from [former PM and fugitive] Thaksin Shinawatra,'' he said. ''The government is just selfish and tells lies. Their policies are not successful.''
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