Thai protesters to pour own blood at PM's house
BANGKOK: Thai protesters seeking a change of government planned more shock tactics Wednesday, saying they would pour containers of their own blood at the prime minister's house in the capital.
Police in riot gear, however, blocked all approaches to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's residence in the Sukhumvit Road area, home to many wealthy Thais and expatriates.
The standoff followed similar "blood sacrifices" Tuesday at Abhisit's office and the headquarters of his Democrat Party. The dramatic acts grabbed attention but put the "Red Shirt" protest movement no closer to its goal of forcing new elections.
The protesters' march and police cordons halted traffic in one direction on Sukhumvit Road, a major thoroughfare, paralyzing parts of the neighborhood. Restaurants closed their doors and residents of luxury condos were prevented from driving out of the area of Abhisit's house.
Abhisit himself has been sleeping at an army headquarters and taking trips out of the city since the demonstrations began.
"We heard they were coming so I stayed in. Sure enough we're blocked in now," said John Bujnosh, a Texas oil driller who lives on the same street as Abhisit.
More than 100,000 demonstrators from all over the country gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, vowing to continue their protest until victory. But Abhisit has rejected their demands to dissolve Parliament, saying only that he will listen to the protesters' point of view and leaving the situation in a stalemate.
Reporters asked one of the protest leaders, Veera Musikapong, what their next move would be, and he replied, "I want to know that myself." He said the group maps strategy on a day-by-day basis.
The protesters consist of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Thaksin's popularity, particularly among the poor.
Thailand has been in political turmoil since early 2006, when anti-Thaksin demonstrations began. In 2008, when Thaksin's political allies came back to power for a year, his "Yellow Shirt" opponents occupied the prime minister's office compound for three months and seized Bangkok's two airports for a week.
On Tuesday, thousands of Red Shirts formed long lines to have their blood drawn by nurses to spill at Government House, the prime minister's office. Leaders claimed to have collected 300,000 cubic centimeters (80 gallons).
A few teaspoons of blood were drawn from each volunteer and then transferred into dozens of large plastic water jugs that were passed overhead through the crowd of cheering protesters before being delivered to Government House.
The Red Shirts say that if the people are willing to sacrifice their blood, Abhisit should show similar spirit by relinquishing power.
Riot police allowed protest leaders to approach the front gate and pour out the blood, which oozed under the gate as national television broadcast the images live. A purported Brahmin priest in ceremonial robes performed an unorthodox black magic ritual on the Red Shirts' behalf.
"The blood of the common people is mixing together to fight for democracy," another Red Shirt leader, Natthawut Saikua, told cheering supporters. "When Abhisit works in his office, he will be reminded that he is sitting on the people's blood." Abhisit has not entered his office at Government House since preliminary protests started on Friday.
Minutes afterward, a government medical cleanup team in white coats, face masks and rubber gloves hosed down the site. Health authorities had warned that the protest risked spreading disease if infected blood splashed bystanders.
Hundreds of protesters then marched and rode pickup trucks and motorcycles to the nearby ruling Democrat Party headquarters and splashed several more jugs of blood on the pavement outside.
Police Gen. Wichai Sangprapai said the number of demonstrators had dropped from about 100,000 Sunday to about 90,000.
Surat Horachaikul, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said he believed the protest organizers lacked plans for their next step and that the protests might end in a few days.
"If nothing comes out of this rally, the government is likely going to become more stable," he said. "Their movement will continue to put some pressure on the government, but Abhisit's administration will be able to stay in power in the next 8-12 months."
Despite continued anxiety over possible violence, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and Thai baht currency have remained stable.
Many Bangkok residents, even those sympathetic to the Red Shirt cause, say they are simply tired of the years of turmoil that have hurt the economy.
"I'm not fed up with Thai politics. I still read the newspaper every day, but I want the protest to stop as soon as possible. My business would be better, I hope," said Suwan Pana-ngham, a downtown food vendor.