Burning down the house
[What I really want to know: What happened to the elders, women, and children who were moved into the Buddhist temple (Wat Patum Wanaran) inside the encampment? Are they OK? Via MsExPat in comments, check out Globe and Mail correspondent Mark MacKinnon.]
UPDATE: 18:00: Simon Roughneen has a piece in The Irrawaddy on what he saw during the crackdown and in the aftermath:
The Thai army today launched a final crackdown on the main redshirt protest area [*] today, leading to the surrender of the main protest [**] leaders. Redshirt leaders told protesters at the group’s rally site in Bangkok of their intention to surrender to police, and asked the protesters to evacuate the site and return home. This provoked anger among a hardcore group of armed militants [***]. These have fought on, burning the shopping malls [****] under which the reds [****] have sheltered at their main protest site since earlier today.
Protesters torched at least 17 buildings, including the Thai stock exchange [, the Channel 3 local television station,] and Central World, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store complex and operated by Central Pattana PCL. The store was gutted by fire and looked like it may collapse, said a Reuters witness.
Sounds like somebody was keeping a list of the high value targets. (Central World, a humongous mall, is partly owned by the Crown Property Bureau, a detail that Thais would know, but Reuters omits.) In other words, the "anarchy" trope is more stupidity from our famously free press. Not to say I support the violence, but this isn't random.
The unrest is now the "most widespread and most uncontrollable" political violence Thailand has ever seen, said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a prominent political historian.
It remained unclear whether the continued rioting, after the protest leaders surrendered, was a last outpouring of anger by anti-government forces, which would give Thai finance markets a reprieve, or the start of more intense, widespread fighting.
"... give Thai finance markets a reprieve." Well, it's Reuters, after all.
"The situation is worse than expected now and it's very difficult to stop," said Kavee Chukitsakem, head of research, Kasikorn Securities. "After the red shirt leaders surrendered, things were out of control. It's like insects flying around from one place to another, causing irritation."
Ah, yes. A quote from a bankster. If you believe in reincarnation, and that deeds without merit in this life help cause you to come back as a lower form on life on the next turn of the wheel, then calling somebody an insect -- in fact, believing that somebody might as well be an insect -- is about as bad an insult as can be.
Not to project, but there as here, the empathetic laziness and stupidity of the elite is mind-boggling. And, there as here, that goes for the elite on both sides of the divide.
Watch out! You might get what you're after...
NOTES I just thought I'd add some asterisks to try to decontaminate the discourse just a bit, using what little I've learned from MsExPat. It's critical not to project whatever sense we might have of injustice here onto Thailand, since politics and culture there are very, very different and more complicated; they make ours look one- or two dimensional, simple, perhaps even naive and childish.
* "protest area" -- No, this is not a US-style "free speech zone." It's an encampment, set up over many blocks in the heart of downtown Bangkok, where until recently people lived, ate, sang, et cetera.
** "protest" -- No, it's not a protest, though I'm not sure there's a word for whatever it is in English. (Louis XVI: "It's a revolt." Courtier: "No, sire. It is a revolution.") The Red Shirt movement (as I will call it; no doubt there is a better Thai word) is not a protest; nor is it united by a single, thought-through ideology. It also includes some of the urban working class, and it also includes a militant wing run by a now-dead sunglasses-wearing general of the usual thuggish sort. If there's a single thread I can pull out of the reporting, it's rage at the injustice at "double standards" for the elite in Bangkok vs. everyone in the provinces. (I don't say rich vs. poor, because that's relative, and Thai farmers are among the richest in Asia. Inequity aversion, however, is very powerful). The political demand was for new elections; the Red Shirts believe, and with very good reason, that that current ("Yellow Shirt") administration was installed rather than elected (to project: It's Bush v. Gore, except orders of magnitude more odious; as if the "bourgeois rioters" had shut down Dulles Airport for weeks and the Army had gotten involved on their side). And in the background of it all is that the (respected, indeed, by many, loved) King is on his deathbed, and has not intervened (as he did in previous situations like this one). Worse, Thailand's lese majeste laws forbid Thais from even talking about the succession, so there couldn't be more bottled up anxiety about the direction of the country. What we have, I suppose, is a crisis of legitimacy, and since, so far as I can tell, the only institution with any claim to legitimacy at all is the ailing King, the crisis will continue.
*** "Armed militants" Well, not really. They're more like a militia, and they don't take orders from the Red Shirt leadership. They took orders from the thuggish general in sunglasses (who the Thai security forces took out with a sniper (although the Royals are sponsoring his funeral ((I told you it was complicated))). And it looks like the general took his orders (and his funding) from exiled Thai billionaire Thaksin (who the Yellow Shirts overthrew in the last bout of chaos (but whom not all the Red Shirts support (because their demand is for democracy as such, not Thaksin's return (I told you it was complicated))).
**** "Reds." No, the "reds" aren't communists. For pity's sake. Although there are/were the odd Marxist professor or two in the leadership, they're all gone now, having recommended compromise, and they don't control the young men in the streets torching downtown Bangkok; the militias answer to whichever thug's wearing the sunglasses now.