Thailand’s Government has taken decisive action to close down the propaganda machine of the anti-government protesters, but an official spokesman has continued to insist that force would not be used to disperse the crowds now besieging the nation’s capital in their thousands.
In a move that has been compared with Thailand’s restrictive bans on reporting news concerning the royal family, the protesters’ “People” satellite television and internet networks were suddenly blocked today.
The closure was precipitated by the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday, Government minister Sathit Wongnongtoey told reporters, and it was part of the plan to return Thailand to “normalcy”.
The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protesters, widely known as red-shirts, have been broadcasting on the People Channel from an intersection in Bangkok’s prime retail shopping strip.
Camped out at the Ratchaprasong intersection since the weekend, the red-shirts have blocked traffic and effectively forced the closure of as many as six large shopping malls and hampered the trade of two five-star hotels.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told journalists today that closing down the People Channel was crucial to the Government’s plan to prevent hostilities in Bangkok escalating.
“The key operation last night and today is to make sure that we can control some media channels that try to tell people to break the law,” he said. “This is the first time the Government has done that.”
Thailand’s tourism and commercial operators want action to disperse the red-shirt protesters who have been demonstrating in Bangkok since early last month, but they are concerned that a show of force will deter tourists and visitors and damage the nation’s already battered reputation.
Yet Mr Panitan insisted that the military has been instructed to take care. “Our objective is to not trigger a confrontation,” he said. “Our objective … is to return to normalcy as soon as possible, and to apply these measures only to those who broke the law”.
Mr Abhisit today cancelled a trip to Vietnam to take part in ASEAN deliberations, and he has been facing down rumours swirling through Bangkok regarding the imminent demise of his ruling coalition.
If the Thai police and military cannot or will not use force to dispel the protesters, analysts warn the battle to regain Bangkok’s premier retail space will become a war of attrition, costing retailers and tour operators, and red-shirt backers, hundreds of millions of baht.
So far, there has been little outright violence, although grenade attacks by unknown marauders have injured a few and rattled Bangkok’s residents.
The red-shirts, representing the rural poor of Thailand’s north and northeast, want Mr Abhisit ousted and his Government dissolved.
They say the ruling coalition won power illegitimately, has never won a mandate from the Thai people, and is in thrall to the nation’s military and urban power elites.
The red-shirts support ousted and exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and they have been demanding an immediate fresh election.
April 8, 2010
Sian Powell, Bangkok
Source: Times Online