The Red Shirts in Bangkok - Penfold's update

Unless you have been living on the moon for the last few weeks, you will no doubt be aware of the protests being held, by the Red shirted demonstrators in Bangkok and the worrying escalation in the level of tension and violence.

Last week the British government advised against all but essential travel to Bangkok and the US and Australian administrations, have issued warnings against travelling to Thailand.

This has caused widespread fear among travellers. But, are visitors right to stay away from Thailand? Or is this just scaremongering?

If you are planning a trip to Bangkok then I would say yes and urge anyone considering a visit to exercise extreme caution.

The protestors are occupying alot of the main roads and thoroughfares together with large parts of the Silom district. This has caused widespread disruption and many hotels and businesses in the area have closed.

On April 10th 25 people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between demonstrators and security forces and on April 22nd, a series of grenade attacks near the Sala Daeng skytrain station killed 1 person and injured 85.

However, I think the US and Australian governments have over-reacted and I believe that if you are travelling to other destinations within Thailand then it will be relatively safe. Although there have been past protests in some of the key tourist destinations, such as Pattaya, the current unrest is confined to central Bangkok.

But, it always pays to be vigilant and also bear in mind that during previous demonstrations Suvarnabhumi airport was closed and there is an outside chance that this may happen again.

What has caused this situation?

The popoulation in Thailand is bitterly divided between the Red shirts of the UDD and the yellow shirts of the PAD.

The UDD is made up of mainly the rural poor, working-classes and those opposed to electoral reforms which would strip them of the right to vote. They are portrayed as pro-Thaksin but this can be misleading. Although the movement is largely funded by Thaksin and his cohorts, many within the UDD are opposed to Thaksin and are not keen to see him return. They support the movement because it defends their rights and it is perceived as the lesser of two evils.

On the opposite side is the PAD, who are a loose coalition of Bangkok based middle-classes, the business and military elite and monarchists. They want to introduce radical reforms that would give voting rights to a chosen few and end universal suffrage. They are deeply opposed to Thaksin who they fear will challenge the status quo and end their grip on power. They also view him as a threat to the monarchy and national stability.

What will happen in the future?

I am of the opinion, that because of the deep-rooted mistrust and anger between the opposing factions, this situation will not be resolved quickly or easily. These tensions have been simmering just below the surface for many years and are now reaching boiling point and unless there is further dialogue, which at this stage seems unlikely, the violence will continue. It may take a geenration to overcome the profound social divisions.

What will this mean for people visiting Thailand?

The violence and turmoil has portrayed the country in an extremely negative light and has had a terrible effect on the tourist industry which represents about 6% of the Thailand's total GDP. There has been a sharp decline in the number of holiday-makers visiting the Kingdom. Tourist related businesses and employees at all socio-economic levels are feeling the pinch and whilst there are scenes of death and violence on our television screens people will continue to stay away.

However, with airlines and hotels desperate to attract business, those of you willing to risk travelling to Thailand will find plenty of good value deals.

I will of course be publishing further updates, as and when the situation changes, so don't forget to regularly check my site.

There are plenty of other news agencies and commentators offering their views on the protests and you can find a selection of them below.


Usama Azeem said…
You’re not leaving me here alone,” I say. Because if he dies, I’ll never go home, not really. I’ll spend the rest of my life in this arena, trying to think my way out.
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