Thai red and yellow shirts head for deadly end game

Police fire on red shirt protesters in Thailand

Thai king lies in hospital as fears grow that the monarchy is the red shirts’ real target

BY Edward Loxton LAST UPDATED AT 08:03 ON Thu 29 Apr 2010

The death of a soldier in Wednesday's clashes with red-shirted anti-government protesters on the streets of Bangkok brings Thailand one step closer to all-out civil war, according to informed sources in Bankgkok.

Senior loyalist generals in the Thai army made it clear when the protests began seven weeks ago that harsh military action could be expected if any men in uniform fell while defending the country's long-established but now fragile monarchy.

Although leaders of the extremist red shirt movement declare they are pushing for democratic reform and a better deal for the country's under-privileged and rural poor, worried officials within the rigid hierarchy of the state are claiming the real aim of the protesters is the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.

Fears of an end to Thailand's constitutional monarchy are also harboured by leaders of the loyalist yellow-shirted movement, many of whom belong to the country's privileged establishment. After keeping a low profile during the red-shirted demonstrators' increasingly violent protests, the yellow shirts were again on the march today, raising concerns of deadly clashes with red shirt activists.

Suriyasai Katasila, secretary general of the PAD, political front of the yellow shirt movement, said documents would be released on Thursday proving a plot to overthrow the monarchy was behind the red shirts' demonstrations.

While tensions reach boiling point on the sun-scorched streets of his capital, Thailand's ailing 82-year-old King Bhumobo Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, lies helpless in hospital, making only brief public appearances and avoiding all comment on the worsening crisis.

In an address to Supreme Court judges at the height of the clashes, he made no mention of the bloodshed and appealed only to the legal worthies to work conscientiously - a stark contrast to his interventions in earlier years in other political crises.

Each time the king returns to his hospital room, rumours surface that his end is near. The succession is by no means clear. Under normal circumstances, the crown prince would follow his father to the throne. "But these are obviously no normal circumstances," said one Thai commentator, who requested anonymity because of the country's draconian lese majeste laws. "The crown prince is widely unpopular, and the succession is effectively decided by the Privy Council, where he has few friends."

The president of the Privy Council, Prem Tinsulanonda, a retired army general and former prime minister, is said to be hated by the man who directs the red shirt movement from behind the scenes - former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in an army-engineered coup in 2006 and is now on the run abroad, avoiding a prison sentence imposed by a Thai court for irregularities in amassing his huge fortune.

During his time at the head of a populist government, Thaksin built up a large power-base among Thailand's rural poor, buying their support at the polls with handouts and a multi-million US dollar 'Village Fund' ostensibly designed to lift peasant communities out of poverty.

The outlawed billionaire's face now adorns the scarlet banners waved by the red-shirted demonstrators in Bangkok, whose apparently endless protests on the capital's streets he is allegedly financing.

"Thaksin's aim is to return, not only to Thailand but to power, perhaps as president of a people's republic," said the unnamed Thai commentator. "The lines are being drawn for a deadly end game." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.

Read more about