[These pictures and the following report are from a New Mandala reader in Bangkok.]

These pictures were taken from the elevated walk way over the Victory Monument between 6-8 pm last night. Around 6 pm it rained so hard most people took cover under the bridge or at the bus stops but still many of the red shirt protesters stood, sat, walked and even danced in the middle of the rain, and, apparently, some were throwing water at each other like they would in Songkran. At the Victory Monument they had four mobile speakers’ platforms – carried on top of the trucks, each of them stood at the intersections and all of them blasted at full volume at the same time so that you could hardly hear clearly what was said from each platform. But the people looked as if they didn’t care much who was doing the speaking or even if anyone was speaking at all. Many of them didn’t listen to anyone. They decided to stand in the middle of the roads and dance to their own music.

A protest held at the Victory Monument may be bad for the Bangkokians who hate it when their lives are disrupted, but for the protesters it brought them a chance of close communication with other people and especially the onlookers, some of them seemingly sympathetic to the Reds’ action. I got into a conversation with a few Red members. Two young men from Ramkhahaeng University explained extensively why they were there. One of them said the Thais have got themselves to believe that Thailand is a democratic country but in fact it’s not. He talked about how ‘bureaucracies’ and elites corrupted the system and hold on to power despite the fact that the constitution said it belongs to the people. They talked about the need to eradicate hypocrisies, to help educate the poor so that they know how to exercise their rights. One of them talked about the need for decentralization so that the ‘center’ would not have an ultimate decision on the rural’s fate. One of them said clearly he is in favor of a republican system. ‘We love our king’, he insisted. ‘And we want our monarchy to be like that of Japan’.

What happened at the Victory Monument is similar to the scene at government house and Gen Prem’s house last night. People in the crowd got up and walked around most of the time with no serious check on people who attended the gathering. At Government House there was no attempt to let people know what space was available where and how; garbage was all over the place; and no mobile toilets were to be seen (courtesy of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) in contrast with the very well organized protests of the PAD whose every move was well planned, prepared and executed by the leaders who got the control of the crowd. Here only some of the speakers could capture the protesters attention.

Media reports in fact talked about the red group leaders being caught by surprise of the move to close the traffic at Victory Monument and that they themselves had to follow what was led on by some taxi drivers. If true, then this is a quite unorganized demonstration. But this could be a tricky part. If the crowd is not led effectively, this demonstration could get nasty.

A few minutes ago PM Abhisit made an announcement that ‘something’ is being done now to end the protest but he did not elaborate. However, he urged people who have been ‘wrongly persuaded’ to join the protest to go home and not to cause damage to the country any longer. Undoubtedly, his TV appearance and the language he used would remind a number of people about the past measures by Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon in suppressing the 1992 protest when, after he had made a similar announcement, the soldiers entered the scene and the shooting started soon afterwards.

This time some people in the crowd have clearly been thinking about the possibility of similar action. One of the speakers said there is an attempt to paint the demonstrators as ‘communists’. A man in the crowd said to me that he fears the military will be called in for a crackdown. But so far public reaction, shown through and led on by television and the Thai media’s coverage concentrates on the disruption the protest caused to the Bangkok public. A quick poll reveals that most people in Bangkok do not agree with the Reds’ action.