Thai army clamps down on ‘red supporters’

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iol pic wld_THAILAND-POLITICS-_0528_11 Reuters Thai soldiers patrol around the Army Club in Bangkok. Picture: Chaiwat Subprasom

Nong Sae, Thailand - The red flags that once hung in this Thai village of green and gold rice fields in Thaksin Shinawatra's northern heartland have been taken down.

Hidden or burned, too, are the red T-shirts, protest horns and membership cards of the street movement that had rowdily supported the ousted government of Thaksin's sister, Yingluck.

“We don't trust that if we put a red flag in our house that our family will be safe,” Jamrus Lunna, a local farmer, told Reuters. “We need to think for our family first.”

Since seizing power in a May 22 coup, the army has rapidly imposed its grip on the northern and north-eastern strongholds that have been loyal to the billionaire Shinawatra clan since Thaksin's populist premiership that began in 2001.

Radio stations run by the “red shirts” - the movement formed to oppose the 2006 coup that deposed Thaksin - have been raided, activists rounded up and protests thwarted.

In Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in the far north, at least 20 local red shirt organisers were detained. Most have now been freed, but the military appears to have successfully muzzled their movement and disrupted their networks.

Mahawon Kawang, a red shirt DJ, closed down his Chiang Mai radio station and went into hiding shortly after Prayuth announced the coup. Within hours, troops had surrounded the shophouse of his sister, Ampai Khayan, on the city's outskirts.

Failing to find Mahawon, troops took his brother-in-law, Duangkaew Khayan, instead. Surveillance camera footage seen by Reuters shows Duangkaew being escorted into the night at 10.01pm, one minute past the junta's newly announced curfew.

“He's not a leader. I've never seen him mobilising anyone,” Ampai said.

Mahawon said the army's tactics won't work for long, especially since the seven-day detention period has expired for many activists.

“There will be resistance but it will be without any leaders, it will be natural,” he said. “There will be more and more dissent because the people see the injustice.”

The heavy-handed approach appears to be stemming the kind of uprising warned of by Thaksin's loyalists in the lead-up to the military takeover.

Daily anti-coup protests peaked in Thaksin's hometown, Chiang Mai, on Saturday, when at least 200 people jeered at and sporadically jostled with police, but have fizzled since. Red shirt radio stations have been silenced and troops and police have been posted at points throughout the city.

In a flower shop in the village of Non Harn, Pichai Phetpiphut said he spent the night of the coup at a military base. His wife, red shirt organiser Manussaporn, was released on Tuesday.

Nearby, Sangwalae Siwichai, a 54-year-old red shirt sympathiser, sat with other activists making signs for a planned flash mob protest.

“We gather in small groups peacefully in several landmarks of the city, take photos, leave the area, and post it on Facebook so that people can share it. Then we repeat it,” she said.

“The army is probably keeping an eye on us. It's scary and our protests may not be noticed, but we need to keep on trying.” - Reuters



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