Anti-government protesters mass in Bangkok.
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is in a state of chaos after a major escalation of political violence and the cancellation of an Asian summit meeting over the weekend because of protests.
The fighting took place across the city as thousands of troops fired warning shots and tear gas at anti-government protesters. At least two people were reported killed and at least 79 were injured.
There are two primary factions of civilians involved — one that supports a former prime minister and wants his successor out (the “Red Shirts”), and another that supports the current govement.
Though current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was elected by parliament just five months ago, he faces lingering public discontent, largely from Thailand’s rural poor.
The “New Mandala” blog posts an email received from a reader in Bangkok, describing the crackdown on protesters:
Around 4.19 am. I was woken up by the sound of something like gunshots but I wasn’t sure. I live near the junction between Rachavithi and Rachaprarop Roads – not far from the Dindaeng triangle. So I went out to have a look. I saw many taxi drivers taking their cars to block the roads and a number of red group protesters around. Some of them told me that the sound I heard was that of the soldiers throwing tear gas at the red protesters at the triangle. I saw two ambulances went in and not long later they came out with some people inside. The people there seemed to be very angry and when one of them shouted “‘one of us is dead, brothers”, the rest ran along shouting with anger. Someone came along with something that looked like a container of fuel and not long after I saw a fire being lit not far in front.
But it didn’t look like the news of death was true. It was clarified later that the soldiers used tear gas but still people did not back off. One of the taxi drivers got off his car parked in front of me and opened up the rear, took out a baton and a piece of cloth then wrapped it around his face and then walked up to the frontline. Another taxi driver told me soldiers fired tear gas at people protesting in other parts of town too. People asked each other was there any members of the media around and got no answer. Then something happened in the front and people started to run. I did too – back to my room. More gunshot-like sound was heard again and again – just now – in fact- but I stayed inside feeling all ashamed that may be people are killing each other out there but I can’t do anything.
The Thailand-based “ShamelessMack” blog comments on the colorful array of protesters, from the “Yellow Shirts” of recent months to the “Red Shirts” and “Blue Shirts” of current protests:
The situation is becoming more and more unpredictable. The red shirts are able to move their forces from place to place. While the yellow shirts — the ones who closed the airport last November/December — have not yet re-appeared, the emergence of the blue shirts cannot bode well. It is even more troubling that on their very first appearance, the blue shirts provoked violence. Do not go out on the streets wearing solid-colour T-shirts. Yellow and red already indicate political affinity, and now dark blue is another group. Who knows what new colours may become too “hot” to wear tomorrow. What to do? Pack only floral shirts.
Watch a video of pedestrians driving away some Red Shirts from YouTube user Macromode:
Another blogger in Bangkok describes the shutdown of one of the city’s major malls, adding that the protests will hurt tourism and the Thai economy:
So after going to the church for Easter Sunday Mass, my friends and I troop to Central World Mall to have lunch and watch movie. Then the screen stopped…my friends and I thought it was a technical problem. Suddenly, a lady popped out and is speaking in very fast Thai something that seemed urgent. Finally, all the people in the cinema stood up and headed to the nearest exit. Naturally, since no announcement was made in English, I had to ask someone what happened. The moviegoer said they announced that the entire mall will be closed in a while because there was a mob between the Red Shirt demonstrators and the police only a short distance away from where we are located and there were some army tanks nearby. There was a sense of panic from all people as they rushed out of the mall. Suddenly, in a supposed busy Easter Sunday and pre-Songkran (Thai New Year Festival) Holidays, the Central World Mall, the biggest in Bangkok– is like a ghost town.
It’s so sad these recent incidents happened to Thailand, a country known to have peace-loving, kind hearted and joyful citizens. What’s even disheartening is the long term effect to the economy and tourism industry of these events.
Tim Meisburger, a regional director with The Asia Foundation, writes at the “In Asia” blog about the implications of ongoing instability and possible solutions to the country’s political failures:
As red-shirted protesters continue to block access to the Government House, just as their yellow-shirted foes did a few months ago, one wonders where democracy is headed in Thailand. A dozen years ago, Thailand drafted a constitution through a participatory process seen as a model for other emerging democracies. Thailand was a rising star, the standard for democratic development that other Asian nations sought to emulate. Now, 12 years later, Thailand’s democracy looks tarnished and tattered.
[…]Although the political conflict in Thailand has been personalized to a large extent, there are real issues that underlie the political divide. Prior to Thaksin’s election, many rural and urban poor people felt exploited, and believed the government was too focused on the interests of a middle-class and wealthy Bangkok-based academic and commercial elite. After Thaksin’s election there was a marked shift in policy, and people in the city felt slighted. They resented being forced to pay for his populist programs aimed at rural areas, and complained of a tyranny of the majority.
One means to reduce this tension could be political decentralization. If people in a local area have control over, and pay for, their own services, there will be no reason for conflict with other areas, while democracy and accountability will be enhanced. Political decentralization might also help resolve the separatist conflict in the south.
Another way to reduce tension and improve democratic representation would be to allow people to vote where they live. Currently, many people who live in Bangkok are counted for representation in their home village or town, meaning that those areas are over-represented in national government, while Bangkok is under-represented. If representation and voting were based on where people actually live, Bangkok people would not feel under-represented, and everyone would enjoy better representation and improved political accountability.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user adaptorplug under a Creative Commons license.
April 10, 2009
Congo’s crisis continues; mass rapes and scarce resources
Crisis in Congo: Human Rights Watch reports that Rwandan rebel forces, Congolese army soldiers and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January 2009. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh
On Thursday, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alan Doss, said that joint efforts between Rwanda and Congo represented a “sea change” in the region that could create “real hope of being able finally to find a durable solution to the problems that have haunted this region of Congo for more than a decade.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reports that Rwandan rebel forces, Congolese army soldiers and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January 2009 — when Rwandan troops first entered Congo as part of a joint military operation to target Rwandan rebel groups.
Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of 180 civilians killed since Rwanda and Congo joined forces.
Maartje, a Doctors Without Borders worker in eastern Congo, writes about her encounters with Congolese rape victims in the “Condition Critical” blog:
I’m responsible for the ‘MSF/SOPROP’ clinic (‘Solidarité pour la promotion sociale et la paix’), a place where we offer help to victims of sexual violence. […]The team is working hard to make the clinic’s presence known among the population so people know where they can get care. We have also started setting up a focus group. This is where victims can share their experiences. Listening to their input also helps us improve the care we offer.
It’s starting to work. Last Tuesday, 16 women showed up. Quietly and shyly they came inside one by one. Some women entered seeming completely broken, others appeared to take a deep breath and then square their shoulders.
I was actually nervous. I found it difficult to see all of these women, knowing how much pain they had suffered. I felt so powerless.
First we drank a cup of tea together. The conversation began to build softly. Then a few women started to answer questions posed by the nurses. Others stayed silent but listened intently. As time went by, more women spoke up and the group began to relax. After an hour, it was as if the group had undergone a complete transformation. We laughed and had fun together.
Read more eyewitness reports from women in Congo at “Condition Critical” and watch the Worldfocus signature story: Rape as a weapon of war in DR Congo.
Doss also reiterated the need for troop reinforcements and equipment to the U.N. Security Council. In a post entitled “U.N. talks while Congo civilians suffer,” blogger “Dave” criticizes the U.N. for not coming through on its promises:
While joint operations were declared successful by the governments involved and the UN hailed the strides toward peace, the people of the region continue to suffer at the hands of all the combatants.
[…]The UN Security Council meets today to talk about the situation. Last year, they promised an additional 3,000 troops to aid the 17,000 blue helmets already in the Congo protect the civilian population. Not only have none of those additional troops arrived, there have been no reports that they are even en route. No one expects much from the additional troops anyway. The original Security Council mandate called for UN troops to protect UN relief operations and Congolese civilians, but their record has been dismal. Civilian casualties in the eastern provinces continue to mount and the epidemic of terror rape continues to destroy the lives of hundreds of women and their families.
The “Impudent Observer” blog calls eastern Congo an “invisible land”:
The world becomes furious at the death of a thousand civilians in Gaza, the world becomes furious at the ongoing deaths in Darfur, but the world simply ignores the death of millions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Latest reports are that at least 90 Congo women were raped and about one hundred fifty villagers killed. Unfortunately, the Congo government took into the ranks of its army former rebels and sent them on this operation. These soldiers lacked training, pay or food so they proceeded to steal, rape and kill the people they supposedly were protecting.
Cry the beloved people of Congo because no one cries for you.
Also see our coverage of the crisis in Congo and Worldfocus correspondent Michael J. Kavanagh’s Potraits of Insecurity, a slideshow of the tenuous situation in the corners of eastern Congo at Foreign Policy.
April 8, 2009
After Somali pirates seize U.S. ship, crew regains control
Pirates in the waters off the coast of Somalia seized an American-flagged ship and took American hostages on Wednesday. Twenty American crew members on the cargo ship were held for several hours by four Somali pirates, later regaining their freedom. But late Wednesday, the ship’s captain reportedly was still being held hostage in a lifeboat.
The ship was headed for Kenya with a cargo of food and relief supplies. The high seas drama is part of the ongoing battle to beat back a growing resurgence of Somali pirate attacks.
Barry Parker, a writer and a maritime consultant on shipping, joins Daljit Dhaliwal to discuss piracy, an enormous and expensive international threat.
Blogger Derek Reveron at the “New Atlanticist” blog downplays the significance of the hostages’ nationality, writing that the attack was not rooted in a desire to challenge the U.S.:
While the media continue to highlight the fact that the United States is now a victim, we shouldn’t rush to seeing this as an attack on the US government. There’s no evidence to suggest that a US-flagged ship was deliberately targeted. Rather, pirates targeted a slow ship where their probability of success was higher.
This hijacking was the sixth over the last week. Their other targets were a British-owned cargo ship, a German container carrier, a Taiwanese tuna fishing vessel, a Yemeni tugboat and a small French yacht. All of these hijackings have one thing in common: they could not fend off a pirate attack. Greed, not ideology, underlies the attacks.
A blogger at “UN Dispatch” writes that the international community faces an insurmountable task when trying to track down pirates:
As many ships that NATO, EU, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and other countries put off the coast of Somalia, they still have to cover an area of over a million square miles of water. And, we’re dealing with pirates out here.
[…]For now, the United States and other countries will almost certainly bolster the international naval presence, hoping, effectively, that with a few more people looking, they’ll be able to catch those needles in the haystack.
Blogger Dave Schuler at “Outside the Beltway” writes that the real problems are onshore in Somalia (listen to our online radio show on lawlessness in Somalia) and discusses how best to deal with piracy:
I’ve been covering the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia for some time here and, as I’ve said before, the real solution to the problem is a solid government in Somalia, a tall, possibly unachievable order. Failing that I think the problem should be faced pragmatically.
Putting enough naval capacity into the area to do any real good will be an expensive proposition. It might well be cheaper simply to pay the ransoms. However, there could well come a point where the piracy is more than a simple irritant.
In their current condition international institutions are not robust enough to deal with piracy or terrorism or any similar issues, indeed, they may well operate against dealing with these issues in an effective manner. It will be up to the individual navies of the world and, most especially, to ours as the largest of the world’s navies to deal with the problem.
April 8, 2009
Rising Sunni-Shiite violence threatens security in Iraq
In Iraq, another bombing threatened security and raised new fears of violence between Sunnis and Shiites once American troops withdraw. The bomb exploded in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, killing seven and wounding 23. It is the third straight day of violent attacks and comes one day after President Obama made a surprise visit to Iraq.
Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, speaks with Daljit Dhaliwal about what will happen in Iraq after U.S. withdrawal and how the Iraqi government has dealt with Sunni-Shiite tensions.
Iraqi blogger “Salam Pax” writes about tensions between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods:
My aunts and uncles, four Shia families, and us we haven’t dared go back to our homes in the west of Baghdad, now declared Sunni. The first time we went to visit since 2005 was last month and it was depressing. So few of the old neighbours are still there and it feels so much less vibrant than the inner Baghdad neighbourhoods.
[…]Two years after the first walls went up the sectarian division of Baghdad is fact. People sold their houses in areas they can’t live in anymore and tried to buy houses in areas safer for them. The important word here is tried. This shuffling of demographic cards totally distorted the prices of property. Many were forced to sell cheap, especially if they were living in Sunni areas. Those who don’t want to sell are left with nothing.
Blogger “Laith” at the “Inside Iraq” blog describes the scene after a car bomb detonated at a market in northeast Baghdad in late March:
The blast killed at least 16 people and wounded some 45. The death toll likely rose today. I walked slowly down the street which was, until the explosion a lively street filled with men, women and children. I saw some of them but they were still under the effect of the explosion. Their faces tell the story of ongoing pain and suffering of Iraqis.
[…]Fruit and vegetables covered with the blood of the merchants and customers spread everywhere. the fruit are stained with the blood of innocents. Three different flip flops belonged to three people who are probably dead now. One is clearly for a young lady. The push cart which is used to carry fruit and vegetable carried tens of wounded people. Its the most popular ambulance in cases like these. It is handy and can carry more than one person. This cart will carry fruit and vegetable again soon. Iraqi blood spilt on the ground has become part of our life.
Young student blogger “Violet” in Mosul describes a bombing in early March:
the explosion occur yesterday.. they happen every day, since i was born .. i was born in the war and my ears used to hear explosions and my eyes feel nothing when see dead people!!!
The floor- as I remember flew from its place … the windows went outside their sites and then returned again!!!