One person was killed and scores injured in the latest violence in Bangkok last night. The M-79 grenades which caused the carnage were, said the government, fired from the direction of Lumphini Park, where thousands of red-shirt protesters remain encamped. The reds deny firing them.
The fact remains: someone lobbed high explosives into rush-hour crowds, then into protesters armed (when armed at all) with rocks and bottles. It feels like a scary escalation in the violence, and a taste of things to come. The editorial in today’s Bangkok Post warns of civil war.
A month ago I might have laughed off that idea. But as the chaos last night showed, Thailand is now so volatile that the security situation can change rapidly and dramatically. Silom Road, the busy office and shopping district where the Patpong night market is located, was almost unrecognizable to me. A thousand or more heavily armed troops occupied the shuttered road and its ill-lit side-streets. Ambulances raced in and out, sirens screaming, past coils of razor wire. Drunken protesters combed the garbage-strewn pavements for bottles to hurl at the reds.
I was struck by the sight of some women crossing the road in that stoop-and-run style you associate with sniper alleys, not shopping areas. Silom: twinned with Sarajevo.
Just before the grenade attacks, the Civil Court in Bangkok issued an injunction against the use of heavy weapons to disperse the red shirts. I’m not sure that this decision will make any difference to what happens next, but it was gratifying to discover that someone in Thailand still believed that violence wasn’t inevitable or necessary.
They are in the minority. “Thais love peace,” says a billboard which hangs beneath the skytrain station where the grenades struck. It’s a phrase from the Thai national anthem. Here’s the full line: “Thais love peace, but aren’t afraid to fight.”