openSecurity

'Red Shirts' continue symbolic blood protest in Bangkok

‘Red Shirts’ continue symbolic blood protest in Bangkok. Israel lifts West Bank closure. North Korea has 1,000 missiles, says South Korea. Erdogan warns that Turkey might deport up to 100,000 Armenians. Yemen rebels free 178 soldiers and civilians. Fresh clashes erupt near the central Nigerian city of Jos. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
17 March 2010

Red-shirted opposition supporters have hurled their own blood at the offices and home of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Wednesday, following similar protests yesterday at his office and the headquarters of his Democrat party. Riot police, who at first blocked all entry points to Vejjajiva's residence, allowed several protestors carrying plastic bottles filled with blood to approach the compound.

Today's protests mark the fourth day of mass rallies to demand Abhisit resign his post. The anti-government protests are being led by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) loyal to the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after allegations of corruption. The protestors say the current government was installed illegally and are demanding an early election. Thaksin, who lives in exile and faces a two-year jail sentence, has been addressing protestors via video link urging them to continue.

Demonstrators had hoped a 'million-man march' would put enough pressure on the government to topple it within a few days. Over the weekend, more than 100,000 people converged on the capital to demand that Abhisit dissolve parliament by Monday and call new elections. Abhisit rejected the demands from an army barracks on the outskirts of Bangkok where he is holed up, fearing his security. The authorities estimate that up to 40,000 protestors took to the streets on Wednesday.

Red Shirt leaders announced on Wednesday that they would maintain their protests until Saturday, when they plan to scatter their rally in Bangkok. The Thai government has shown no sign of heeding pressure to call elections, which Thaksin's allies would be expected to win.

The openSecurity verdict: Although media outlets and some Thai officials had played up the risk of violence at the rallies, the demonstrations have so far been non-violent, utilising instead symbolic acts of protest. The red shirts have mobilised people across the country and transported them via trucks, buses and cars into the capital. The protestors shock tactic of collecting 600 litres of blood from thousands of people has grabbed headlines around the world. The use of black magic rituals has raised questions in mostly Buddhist Thailand about superstitious beliefs, astrology and the use of spirits. Health workers have expressed concern about hygiene and the spread of disease from the spillage of blood onto streets and buildings. Government health teams have rushed to the scene of protests to clean buildings and streets.

The mounting pressure exerted by the protestors has led to the government expressing a willingness to talk to the UDD, if Thaksin agrees. Government officials have suggested that one way to resolve the ongoing political conflict is for all parties to enter into negotiations and jointly agree on how to amend the constitution. Constitutional amendments would mean that current political conflicts will not replicate themselves once elections are held. It is not yet clear whether the pro-Thaksin camp will want to enter into negotiations. Thaksin-affiliated parties have won every election in the past decade and they are well-placed to win polls next year. The aim of the red shirts is not merely to oust the current government. Anti-aristocratic placards in recent rallies bring to light the campaign that has been underway in recent months by the red shirts to rid Thailand of an unelected establishment elite comprised of wealthy businessmen, judges, army officers and generals who they perceive to be undermining the democratic reform process in Thailand.

Abhisit has cancelled a trip to Australia this coming weekend on account of domestic developments. Protestors have not merely directed their anger at the Thai authorities. Security officials on Tuesday revealed that they had received a warning about possible sabotage from foreign governments, including the United States, and intelligence networks. The red shirt protestors on Wednesday expressed their anger at alleged US complicity and submitted a letter to the US embassy in Bangkok asking that it clarify Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban's remarks about warnings of sabotage.

It is unclear which direction the pro-Thaksin movement will take in the coming days and whether it will have a lasting effect on Thai politics. The movement, dominated by the urban and rural poor, has shown that it has the potential to become a credible political force in Thai politics though much will depend on its longer term resources and the ability to keep up momentum. This of course rests on the setting of clear objectives and unity within the pro-Thaksin camp. Over the course of the last four days, the number of protestors has been dwindling. Many are beginning to tire after several days on the streets in scorching heat. The coming days will reveal whether the red shirts will enter into talks with the government and call off their protests or if they will resort to more controversial measures and risk confrontation with the authorities in a bid to forcibly prompt Abhisit's government to call an election.

Israel lifts West Bank closure

Israel lifted its closure of the occupied West Bank and granted open access to the al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem on Wednesday. The move came a day after dozens of people were injured in clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces. On Tuesday, hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli police in response to a 'day of rage' declared by Hamas after Israel reopened a 17th Century synagogue near the al-Aqsa compound. Although the five-day lockdown seems to have come to an end, the authorities remain on high alert with 3,000 police stationed in east Jerusalem and nearby villages.

Elsewhere, a top US general said yesterday that tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have an 'enormous' affect on the ability of the US to advance its interests in the middle east. Speaking before a Senate committee, General David Patraeus, head of US central command, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-American sentiment in the region because of the perception of US favouritism towards Israel. Overnight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that their countries enjoy a 'close, unshakable bond.'

North Korea has 1,000 missiles, says South Korea

South Korea's defence chief, Kim Tae-young, said North Korea has increased its missile arsenal by twenty-five percent in the past two years to about 1,000 missiles. Speaking to a forum of business leaders, Tae-young said Pyongyang's arsenal includes intermediate-range missiles that could hit Japan and reach US military bases in Guam. South Korea's last estimate of the North's missile stockpile was in 2008 when a government defense white paper stated that the North had deployed 800 intermediate range missiles.

In a separate but related development, the South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade, Yu Myung-hwan, arrived in China on Wednesday for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Yanh Jiechi, on the resumption of six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

South Korean media reported that last month that Assistant US Secretary of State Kurt Campbell speculated at a closed-door meeting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may die within three years. In January, a South Korean think tank said in a report that Kim Jong Il probably would not survive past 2012 after having suffered a stroke in 2008. Speculative reports about Kim Jong Il's health have raised concerns that his death could trigger a power struggle in the nuclear-armed communist state.

Erdogan warns that Turkey might deport up to 100,000 Armenians

In an interview with the BBC Turkish service in London on Tuesday, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned that up to 100,000 Armenians living in Turkey without citizenship could be expelled. His comments follow resolutions passed by the US and Sweden that branded World War One-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. Erdogan accused the Armenian diaspora of orchestrating the passing of these resolutions and called on foreign governments to avoid being influenced by their lobbying. In Turkey, ccusations of genocide are widely derided as slander against the nation. Turkey's foreign minister later opposed Erdogan’s comments by saying the deportation of Armenians would hand a 'victory card' to nations acting against Turkey.

Yemen rebels free 178 soldiers and civilians

Shia rebels in northern Yemen have reportedly released 178 civilians and soldiers as part of a ceasefire agreement with the government. Abdul Maled al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi fighters, announced that captured prisoners would be freed within 48 hours. The proclamation came as the Yemeni government accused the rebels of 'procrastination' and noncompliance with the ceasefire terms under which rebels must free all prisoners, open roads in the north, retreat from government buildings and return weapons and army outposts seized during six months of intense fighting between the Yemeni government and rebels. Although the release of all captives is a welcome step for peace efforts in the area, analysts have expressed doubt that the truce will last as the underlying causes of the conflict, namely complaints of neglect and sectarian discrimination by Yemeni Shias, remain unaddressed.

Fresh clashes erupt near the central Nigerian city of Jos

Plateau state radio reported that at least thirteen people have been killed in an attack on a village near the central Nigerian city of Jos. Eyewitnesses say the raiders, disguised as soldiers, burnt houses and cut down villagers with machetes. The attack occurred in the early hours of the morning and came only a week after violence between Muslim and Christian groups in the area left more than two hundred people dead.

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