Thailand’s UDD Red Dawn Brings Both Concern And Optimism

By: Pattaya Daily News

The world is not optimistic about the upcoming effect of the anti-government Red- Shirt protests from March 12-14, with many sources predicting violence as the protestors attempt to overthrow the government. Already, up to 27 countries have issued travel warnings to their citizens, advising them not to travel to Thailand.
Bangkok, March 12, 2010 [PDN]: As the first day of the so-called ‘million man march’ dawns, Dr. Sethaput Suthiwart-naru, a leading economist and Executive Vice President of the Siam Commercial Bank is predicting that if violence occurs, “the number of foreign arrivals in Thailand will drop below what many expected”, according to the Thailand News Agency.
Dr Sethaput said the earlier optimistic predictions by the SCB Economic Intelligence Center that tourist numbers would increase by 15 million, compared with 2009, are unlikely to be realized. This especially as Asian tourists, such as Koreans, Indians, and Chinese, regard safety as their first priority. Dr. Sethaput also noted that the enforcement of the Internal Security Act in Bangkok would also do little to boost tourist confidence.  Dr. Sethaput further predicted a negative impact on gross domestic product (GDP), with growth in the region of 3.5-4.5%, due to the fact that tourist revenue represents 6-8% of the GDP.
Dr. Sethaput is also not impressed with the measures currently taken by the government to safeguard tourist stability and safety, calling it a short term solution. What is needed, he says, is increased competition in the tourism sector.
It may well be that adverse media reports have caused 27 countries to issue advisory warning to their citizens, fearful about their safety. This is the opinion of Anake Srishevachart, President of the Thai-Japan Tourism Association, who asserts the tourism sector has been negatively affected by the ‘sensationalising’ of news reports.  Mr. Anake suggests the media adopts a more positive reporting stance.
Notwithstanding the line the media takes, however, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Iceland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are expecting a fairly likely incidence of violence, as on a scale of 1-5, these countries predict violence of the third level. Those countries less concerned, only predicting a second level of violence, include France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, United States, Israel, Japan, Poland, Spain, Russia, Romania and Finland; whereas  China, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea and Sweden are the least concerned, predicting the first level, or lowest violence ranking. “The United States believes that differences should be addressed through Thailand’s democratic institutions and not through violence,” the US Embassy declared. “We call on protesters and their leaders to avoid the use of violence and to exercise their right to assemble and protest peacefully, in accordance with the law.”
Apparently, Thai travel associations and hotel operators do not believe there will be any violence over the coming days, but how much of this is hype or just wishful thinking is difficult to say. Certainly, the advent of the provincial Red Shirt brigades over the weekend, as they progressively make their way to the capital, is causing not a little concern to the security forces. An anonymous government security source declared  “The most vulnerable period will be March 13 and 14 …. It will be hard to control the crowds and there are high risks of them turning into angry mobs if provoked.” Five hard-line factions, in particular, are being seen as volatile and unpredictable, including those led by Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol (who has vowed to step in if the security forces use violence), and those politicians with close affiliations to Thaksin Shinawatra. There is also the unsolved but crucial problem of what happened to the munitions that were stolen from government arsenals recently, the most dangerous being “bloopers”, M67 rocket launchers!
Yet, the authorities have taken steps to aid tourists as and when needed, including the establishment of a Crisis Management Centre to monitor the situation and the offer of medical insurance to any tourists injured. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, maintains security forces are 100% ready for the Red Shirts’ rally.
Pratunam Phra-in in Ayutthaya’s Wang Noi district is being predicted as the most likely flash point, according to UDD key leader Dr.Jatuporn Prompan. This is where checkpoints are being set up check for weapons and effectively stem the Red-Shirt tide.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the National Security Council had set up a committee to monitor radio and TV stations which might be used to provoke trouble.
Finally, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared on March 11 that he was prepared to step down or dissolve the House of Representatives if that would guarantee a greater good for the country and the public, but that he would not do so under pressure from the UDD.
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1 Million Red Shirts Will Rally to Oust Thailand’s Government

A key leader of Thailand’s anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) on Tuesday announced that the group will rally in March with at least one million Red Shirt supporters joining the protest to oust the Abhisit Vejjajiva government within seven days.
Related Feature:

Does Arms’ Theft Indicate Incipient Violence for Bangkok?

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Taliesin Verity

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