January 1, 2014
It has been relatively quiet in Bangkok over the new year holidays. There hasn’t been any mass protests for a while and tourists have been reporting that they had a peaceful holiday in Bangkok without seeing any protesters. It’s a big city and for a while now it has been relatively easy to avoid any trouble by staying away from the rally sites marked on the Protest Map of Bangkok and also by following people like myself on Twitter @RichardBarrow.
UPDATE: “Bangkok Shutdown” will start on Monday 13th January from 9 a.m. and could last as long as 5-20 days
That is not to say that it has been without any danger. Over the last week there have been at least three attacks on protest guards on the fringes of their rally site. One guard was shot dead and others seriously injured. This has been mainly late at night. It is not known who is doing this, but one theory is that they are trying to give the army an excuse to stage a coup. They are not targeting tourists, but it is important that you don’t go anywhere near the “danger zone” marked on this map. Otherwise you might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Suthep, the protest leader, has announced that after the new year holiday he will launch his “Bangkok Shutdown” plan. We don’t know the full details yet but it will probably be similar to the protest march the other week that created gridlock across Bangkok for half a day. However, this time it will be different as he says they will continue until they have victory. What we know so far is that “Bangkok Shutdown” will start on Monday 13th January and could last as long as 5-20 days. Suthep also said he will do a mini march on 5th January as a practice run.
So, how bad will it get during the shutdown and how will it affect tourists? Suthep has said it will be a peaceful protest and that they will not carry arms. He did say that before when they surrounded the Thai-Japanese Stadium. Technically he was truthful as nothing violent happened on his watch. However, the day after he marched his group home, a different group of protesters turned up. This then led to a violent clash that left two dead and others seriously injured.
If it’s like last time, Suthep will try and cause gridlock by closing down up to 20 major intersections around Bangkok with the Victory Monument being the main site. But, instead of half a day, it could go on for days if not weeks. What is worrying is that if this doesn’t have the effect that he wants then he will raise the stakes to provoke more reaction from the government. According to Thai Rath, he could cut power in order to bring a halt to the BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway. Suthep denies this and says he will only cut utilities for government buildings. He could also close the road in front of Don Mueang Domestic Airport like they did before. At the moment, we just don’t know how far he will go.
Some people have asked me what the government will do about the Bangkok Shutdown. Well, there is good news and bad. Firstly, the police have already come out to say that they will not offer any resistance and will allow the protesters to close intersections. They will just help with traffic flow and diversions. That’s obviously bad news for commuters, but it is also good as it will mean that there won’t be any violent clashes. So, no tear gas and no rubber bullets. We also can’t expect any help from the Bangkok Governor. He is seen here shaking hands with the protest leader. Some people have gone as far as accusing the Democrat led BMA with actively helping the protesters.