Anti-Government Protests Continue and Turn Deadly
By April of 2009, mass political unrest had returned to Thailand. Protesters loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, called red shirts, interrupted a meeting of Asian leaders that was being held at a Thai resort. Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva quickly cancelled the meeting and declared a state of emergency. He then ordered the Thai army to break up the protest in the capital of Bangkok. On April 14th, the protestors surrendered and peace was restored to the streets, but Thaksin and his supporters had proven that they remain a threat to Thailand's political stability.
Pro- and anti-Thaksin demonstrations continued throughout 2009, peaking in December when some 20,000 red shirts gathered in Bangkok to demand new elections. Then, in March 2010, about 100,000 red shirts assembled in Bangkok and demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit dissolve Parliament and call new elections. Abhisit refused, but did agree to meet with opposition leaders. At the meeting in late March, he agreed to call new elections but did not set a timetable. Abhisit declared a state of emergency in early April after protesters broke into the Parliament building, prompting government officials to flee the structure by helicopter. The protests continued into May, with the red shirts taking over central Bangkok and essentially crippling the busy metropolis.
In May, Abhisit offered to hold early elections—one of the key demands of the red shirts—if the protesters called off their demonstrations, but they rejected the gesture. Abhisit withdrew his offer and ordered troops to blockade the protest area. What started as a peaceful protest disintegrated into violence, and the military fired upon the protesters, hitting Khattiya Sawatdiphol, a general who sided with the red shirts. He later died of his injuries. His death sparked further violence, and the protesters retaliated with grenade attacks. The red shirts then offered to negotiate with government, but were rebuffed and engaged in large-scale rioting, looting, and the firebombing of several buildings, including Thailand's stock exchange and largest department store. The government cracked down on the movement, and on May 19, the rioters dispersed and protest leaders surrendered and will face terrorism charges. In the 68 days of the protests, 68 people died. The red shirts gained little from their protracted demonstration. If anything, it deepened the division between pro- and anti-government supporters.
Abhisit introduced a five-point plan in June aimed at reconciliation. The plan, though vague, aimed to bridge the economic and social divide that led to the recent turmoil. In addition, Abhisit said he would move to put controls on the news media, which many believe stoked the unrest, consider constitutional reform, appoint a commission to investigate the violence, and reinforce respect of the monarchy.