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Democracy Now! debate: Is Thailand's Red Shirt movement a genuine grassroots struggle?

Democracy Now! -- May 18, 2010 -- In Thailand, the government has rejected an offer by anti-government protesters to enter talks after a bloody week in Bangkok that has left at least thirty-eight protesters dead. Some fear the standoff could lead to an undeclared civil war. The protesters are mostly rural and urban poor who are part of a group called the UDD, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, more commonly known as the Red Shirts. We host a debate between Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Thai dissident living in exile in Britain who supports the Red Shirt movement; and Philip Cunningham, a freelance journalist who has covered Asia for over twenty years.


Giles Ji Ungpakorn, Thai dissident living in exile in Britain. He was a university lecturer in Thailand before having to flee after writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a Red Shirt supporter.

Thailand: Why Obama is silent on the Bangkok massacres

By Shamus Cooke

May 16, 2010 -- When the White House is quiet as protesters are butchered in the streets of Bangkok, suspicions are raised. Silence often equals complicity. One can only imagine what the US government's response would be to a Venezuelan government slaughter: the US media and US President Barack Obama would loudly condemn such an act, in contrast to the muted response to Thailand's bloodbath.

The history of US-Thailand relations explains why. During the Vietnam War, the US used Thailand as one of the main “anti-communist” bulwarks in an area that included China, Vietnam and other countries that were challenging capitalism.

Thailand was thus transformed into a US client state and given money, guns and US government intelligence to battle Thailand’s “communists”. This relationship has equalled numerous Thai dictatorships that have a very bloody history, including the shooting of untold numbers of protesters who the Thai government named “communists” or the modern equivalent, “terrorists”.

The US-Thailand relationship began to sour when the recently deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra formed a closer relationship with China that included economic and military deals. The November 7, 2008, Asian Times summarises the consequences:

จดหมายด่วนเปิดผนึกถึงนัก สหภาพแรงงาน

ใจ อึ๊งภากรณ์

ท่ามกลางการนองเลือดในกรุงเทพฯ ที่มาจากการปราบปรามประชาชนมือเปล่า โดยทหารและรัฐบาลของอำมาตย์ คนงานในประเทศไทยจะนิ่งเฉยได้อย่างไร?

(Updated May 21) Thailand: International left solidarity with the democracy movement

Photo by Lee Yu Kyung, Bangkok.

Statements by the New Anti-Capitalist Party of France, Socialist Alliance of Australia, the Socialist Party of Malaysia, the Fourth International, Focus on Global South, Australia Asia Worker Links. See also Asia-Pacific left statement -- `Resolve crisis through democracy, not crackdown!', by Asian left and progressive organisations.

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New Anti-Capitalist Party: Stop repression in Thailand

By the New Anti-Capitalist Party/Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), France

Australia/Thailand: In solidarity with the democracy protests in Bangkok

On May 16, 2010, an emergency rally in solidarity with the democracy movement in Thailand was held outside the Sydney Town Hall. More photos below.

By Thai Red Australia Group for Democracy

May 16, 2010 -- Since March 14, Bangkok has been the scene of mass pro-democracy protests. The protesters known as “Red Shirts” have demanded the resignation of unelected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and new elections. Abhisit came to power in December through the overthrow of a democratically elected government by right-wing “Yellow Shirt” gangs, assisted by the military and elements of the royal family.

(Updated May 20) Thailand: The anger of the people is justified; Tyrants cling to power over dead bodies

Bangkok, May 19, 2010.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

May 19, 2010 -- Now that the official protest has been drowned in blood and stopped [read Giles Ji Ungpakorn's accounts of the May 19 assault as it unfolded, HERE], there will not be peace because there is no justice. The anger of the ordinary people has finally erupted into violence with numerous buildings being set of fire in Bangkok and the provinces. People are also trying to use any means to fight the army. There are reports that government buildings, banks, the stock exchange, luxury shopping malls and pro-military media are all being set on fire.

All this is totally justified.


Asian left parties: `In solidarity with the Greek people's resistance against austerity'

The following joint statement of solidarity -- initiated by Socialist Alliance, Australia -- has been signed by a number of left and progressive organisations in the Asia-Pacific region. If your organisation would like to sign on, please email

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Joint statement from Asia-Pacific left and progressive organisations

May 13, 2010

We, left and progressive organisations from the Asia-Pacific region, express our solidarity with the resistance of the Greek people against the harsh austerity being imposed upon them by the governments of the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The proposed “rescue package” for the Greek economy by the IMF-EU has triggered a huge struggle that will have worldwide ramifications for working people.

Nepal's May days: `This struggle has not ended. The general strike was only a dress rehearsal'

Marching to defend Maoist barricades against right-wing provocations.

[For more coverage of the struggle in Nepal, please click HERE.]

Story and photos by Jed Brandt, Kathmandu

May 11, 2010-- -- The largest mobilisation of human beings in Nepal's history brought hundreds of thousands of villagers into the capital Kathmandu for the May 1 protests – and the entire country to a standstill.

On May 1, this city belonged to the members and supporters of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). From Kalinki to the Old Bus Park, packed buses poured into the city. Every seat and aisle was filled. Young men perched on the roofs. Bags of rice, lentils and vegetables were stockpiled in the schools, wedding halls and construction sites that served as makeshift camps for the protesters.

คนเสื้อแดงได้อะไรจากการ ต่อสู้??

ใจ อึ๊งภากรณ์

จุดจบของการต่อสู้รอบนี้ ซึ่งเริ่มในเดือนมีนาคม เป็นการประนีประนอมระหว่างแกนนำคนเสื้อแดงกับรัฐบาลของอำมาตย์ หลายคนคงจะผิดหวัง แต่เราควรใช้เวลาพิจารณาสถานการณ์และกำหนดแนวทางในการต่อสู้ต่อไป เรื่องมันยังไม่จบจนกว่าอำมาตย์จะถูกโค่นล้ม ดังนั้นอย่าไปเสียเวลากับอาการ “อกหัก” อย่าไปท้อ อย่าไปเดินออกจากเวทีการต่อสู้ด้วยความน้อยใจ

Thailand: Red Shirt protests -- what has been achieved? คนเสื้อแดงได้อะไรจากการ ต่อสู้??

`The Red Shirts have shown that they are a genuine mass movement for democracy, made up of ordinary working people in rural and urban areas.'

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

May 11, 2010 -- Pro-democracy Red Shirt protests in Bangkok, which started in mid-March, are about to be wound up. Leaders [of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, UDD] have accepted a compromise with the military-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Elections will not be held immediately, but on November 14. Earlier Abihist had indicated an election in February 2011 at the earliest.

It is unclear whether the blanket censorship of the Thai media will be lifted. One clear demand that the Red Shirt leaders are expecting to be met is that the Red Shirt's TV channel (People Channel TV) will be allowed back on air. Whether websites like Prachatai will be unblocked is also unclear. Another demand is that the law be applied equally to all.

The government claims that the prime minister and deputy prime minister will "surrender" to the police in relation to charges of murdering citizens on April 10, 2010. But it is unclear whether any real charges will be filed against them.

Philippines faces election failure

By Reihana Mohideen

May 9, 2010 -- The country faces a possible failure of elections on May 10 due to the inability of the Philippines' elite to ensure a resolution to the political crisis through elections, and the general incompetence of a corruption ridden, elite-controlled, weak state to conduct credible elections, above all one based on a fully automated voting system.

Only five days before the elections a major test run of the equipment failed. In several precincts around the country, for example, votes cast for the opposition Liberal Party candidate Noynoy Aquino were counted as votes for the candidate backed by the government party Lakas Kampi CMD’s (Christian Muslim Democrats), Gilbert Teodoro.

In one important aspect, i.e. the public trust in the electoral commission to conduct credible elections, the elections have already failed. People are extremely distrustful of the electoral commission and its credibility is virtually in tatters. The commission is suspected of being manipulated by the president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (known as GMA in the Philippines) to serve her personal political interests, and several commissioners are known to be in the pay of GMA.

Philippines left and the 2010 elections: Military rebels in the elections

Francisco Nemenzo.

By Reihana Mohideen, based on an interview with well-known Marxist Francisco Nemenzo

May 6, 2010 -- An important political development in recent years, a result of the widespread opposition to the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo [known in the Philippines as GMA], is the radicalisation of junior officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which has drawn a new generation into progressive politics.

Asian left parties: `Support the struggle for democracy and social justice in Nepal'

The following joint statement of solidarity -- initiated by Socialist Alliance, Australia -- has been signed by a number of left and progressive organisations in the Asia-Pacific region. If your organisation would like to sign on, please email

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May 6, 2010

On May Day, international workers’ day, a huge demonstration of between 500,000-1 million people took place in Kathmandu. Called by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), people came from all over Nepal to make their voices heard.

It was the largest demonstration since the fall of the centuries-old monarchy and was the culmination of a growing series of mass demonstrations and strikes aimed at restoring civilian supremacy and democracy. Despite right-wing rumours and slanders, the marchers were unarmed and there was no violence.

Thailand: Land of smoke and mirrors

By Justin Alick, Bangkok, photos by Nick Nostitz/New Mandala

May 5, 2010 -- FM4 -- Thailand is many things, but a bastion of transparency it is not.

On the night of April 10, 2010, a distraught group of red-shirted, pro-democracy activists stormed into a Bangkok hospital and demanded that it hand over the bodies of fellow protesters they had witnessed being shot to death by the Royal Thai Army in a bloody military crackdown, which was still in progress. At first they were turned away by the hospital director, citing medical procedures as well as specific regulations that had been handed down by the military regime -- but as more angry protesters arrived, he had no choice but to relent.

Eyewitness report: Nepal, May 1-4 -- The people besiege a government

[For more coverage of the struggle in Nepal, please click HERE.]

Story and photos by Jed Brandt

May 3, 2010 -- -- From here in Kathmandu the monarchy ruled this diverse mountain nation for 200 years. This is where the national elite live, with its political parties, banks and walled compounds. But the streets now belong to the people, and it is this "people's power" movement that they fear.

Kathmandu is chaotic on a normal day, but for May 1 the Maoists mobilised at least 500,000 people to the steets with both discipline and revelry. The Janandolan III, or popular uprising, they promised is here.

The Kalinki gathering

We positioned ourselves by one of the 18 gathering points for the May 1 events. Each of the gathered marches then moved through the streets to Martyrs' Field in the Kathmandu city centre.

Thailand: What Abhisit has really offered; UDD's response

Solidarity in Australia with the Thai people's struggle for democracy. Photos by Thai Red Australia, Peter Boyle and Mat Ward.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

May 4, 2010 -- Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva trumpeted today that he was taking an important initiative to “solve” the political crisis. He offered to dissolve parliament in September and hold elections on November 14, 2010. Previously he had said that he would not dissolve parliament until December. Yet even this offer was conditional on there being “peace in society”. That means that he and his military-backed government can go back on this proposal and claim that conditions were “not yet right” for elections nearer the time.

Eyewitness report: Nepal, May 1 -- 500,000+ mobilise, talks fail, general strike is on

Photo by Jed Brandt.

By Jed Brandt, Kathmandu

May 1, 2010 -- Late into the night, after a long May 1 in Kathmandu: I just left the Radisson Hotel where negotiations had been going on. Dr Baburam Bhattarai, a top leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and its negotiating team, came out the doors to say that the three negotiating parties have not reached an agreement. The general strike is on.

Others in attendance at the negotiations included the Congress party and the [pro-capitalist] Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist). The hated, isolated current prime minister M.K. Nepal will not resign.

Bhattarai was sharp and direct. Since they will not make way for a national unity government, the agitation will increase tomorrow with a national general strike to topple the unpopular and unelected government.

A city filled for May 1 and for struggle

The May 1 rally today was well over 500,000.

Nepal’s streets ahead of May 1: `We make the power'

[The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has called for workers and villagers to converge on Kathmandu for a “final conflict” to win a new constitution. The Maoists are calling for a sustained mobilisation, with the hope that an overwhelming showing can push the government out with a minimum of bloodshed and stay the hand of the Nepal army. For more background, see "Nepal: Bracing for `high noon' after May 1". The UCPN (M) on April 27 called for an indefinite general strike starting May 2, should the current prime minister not step aside in the face of the May 1 mass mobilisation.]

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Story and photos by Jed Brandt, Kathmandu

Statement Bersama untuk Hari Buruh Internasional

Di seluruh dunia kelas buruh mengorganisasikan dirinya. Kami berorganisasi untuk menuntut upah yang layak untuk hidup. Untuk kesehatan dan keselamatan di tempat kerja. Untuk kompensasi dan rehabilitasi. Untuk hak buruh migran dan pengungsi, Untuk hak kewarganegaraan bagi buruh migran dan keluarganya. Untuk hak bekerja berdasarkan prinsip kesetaraan. Kelas buruh berorganisasi melawan deportasi, menentang rasisme, menolak diskriminasi. Kelas buruh berorganisasi menentang perang yang membawa bencana bagi jutaan kelas buruh.

Thailand: It's about democracy

Red Shirt barricade, Bangkok.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

April 29, 2010 -- In a democratic society, when there is a deep crisis, it is customary for the government to dissolve parliament and call elections in order for the people to decide. This happened in Britain and France after mass strikes and demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s.

After mass right-wing Yellow Shirt protests against the government in Bangkok in 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai government dissolved parliament and called elections. Yet the Democrat Party and others refused to take part in these elections because they knew they would lose. This led to a military coup. The military wrote their own undemocratic constitution. Fresh elections were held under the control of the military, yet Thaksin’s party won an overall majority again. Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government is only in power by using two judiciary coups, Yellow Shirt violence at Government House and the airports, and the actions of the army. It has never been elected.

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