Part 3: Standoff at Rajprasong and Failed Negotiations

24 people died on the night of April 10. Sensing that the area around Rajdamnern had become impossible to defend, the Red Shirt protest leaders moved the protests to Rajprasong intersection in the heart of downtown Bangkok.

There the Red Shirts built barricades and set up camp from Phetburi Road all the way to Rama IV Road.

Red Shirt supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra shout slogans during an anti-government protest at central world junction in Bangkok on April 3, 2010. Tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters loyal to Thaksin mounted another mass rally in Bangkok, refusing to back down in their bid to topple the government. AFP PHOTO/ Athit Perawongmetha (Photo by Athit Perawongmetha / AFP)

Abhisit Vejjajiva (Former Prime Minister and Democrat MP): I had told the police quite clearly that they should not allow [the protesters to set up camp in Rajprasong]. It could make the situation much more difficult to manage. But in the end, they talked to the Red Shirts, and the Red Shirts said that they would just be there for a couple of hours, and they let them set up a stage there.

Amorn Savethamornkool (Shop owner in Amarin Plaza): Foot traffic died almost overnight. We went from a business doing relatively well to no business in a very short amount of time. I remember thinking ‘if this lasts for a while, I will go bankrupt’.

Patcharee Siriwanwattana (Office worker at Central World): There was a sense that these people were invading the city, that a political force which we didn’t support was shutting down our business and trying to use illegal measures to shut down the government. How could we be supportive of a group that does things outside of the law?

Pro-government supporters wave national flags and portraits of the Thai king during a demonstration to counter against the anti-government “Red Shirt” protests at Victory Monument in Bangkok on April 18, 2010. The “Red Shirts”, who mainly support ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have occupied the capital for more than a month in their anti-government campaign, which led to clashes with security forces on April 10 leaving 25 people dead. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo by PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL / AFP)

As the protesters began their second round of protests in Rajprasong, the Thai middle class launched counter-protests near Victory Monument, a few train stations away from the Red Shirt campsite. The pro-government demonstrators professed their love for the country’s monarch and their support of Prime Minister Abhisit Jejjajiva.

Amorn: I went to the protests to show the world that not everyone followed this gang of thugs. That there were Thais who supported Khun Abhisit, that believed in a constitutional monarchy.  

Patcharee: I think the crowd that day was defiant. We wanted to show the government that they still had their supporters and that we would not be brought to our knees by terrorists.

While the protests and counter-protests were going on, the government began a second round of negotiations with the protesters that would be televised to the public.

Abhisit: I think most MPs on the government side, they said that we came to power through the parliamentary process. There was no reason why we would need to meet any of the demands [of the protesters]. But I tried my best during the negotiations to seek a compromise because I had said right at the start of my term that I didn’t want to stay the whole term anyway.

I was there to hopefully resolve the economic and political crisis that had preceded my time. And the decision, the dates that I had picked was my own decision [and not the party’s].

After what happened in April and the subsequent losses, we unilaterally offered to dissolve parliament later in the year without setting a specific date.

Jatuporn Prompan (Red Shirt Leader, MP for PPP and Pheu Thai Party): The negotiations were not progressing at all. It was more like a talk show to the camera. We were trying to make the government announce that they would dissolve the parliament within 15 days since we knew that it could take up to six months before a new government could be formed.

We did not ask for the parliament to be dissolved so that we could come to power. What we wanted was for the power to return to the people because everyone saw that the Abhisit government was formed inside a military camp.

This is something that happened, and no one can deny this.

Weng Tojirakarn (Red Shirt Leader and former Pheu Thai MP): Abhisit was trying to use the negotiations to build up his image and popularity. The negotiation was being done on TV and it was a stage for him to gain more credibility for his government.

Thida Thawornsate (Red Shirt Leader): It was Abhisit just acting. He believes that he is a good speaker and the negotiations just became a show for him. It was more like he was using the negotiations to speak to his fan club.

Veera [Musikapong] is a straight talker and what he was saying at the negotiation was not impressive and the Red Shirt onlookers did not like how things were turning out.

The negotiations continued through April buoyed by Abhisit’s offer to dissolve parliament at the end of the year. Just as it looked like a deal had been struck, the negotiations were cancelled by the Red Shirts at the last minute.

Abhisit: Some seemed to accept [this proposal] and a deal was almost struck but then withdrawn in the last minute. Obviously, I can understand that because there were, shall we say five to six leading figures on the ground, and they had different views, obviously some more extreme than others. But yeah, some of them were receptive, and we were hopeful with the result of that.

In our belief, the big boss from far-away said they could not agree and overnight [the negotiations] changed.

Thida: It was not Thaksin’s decision. That is simply not true. Both Nattawut and I saw that the negotiations were not going anywhere, and we wanted to hold the negotiations elsewhere and not on TV.

Putting it on the screen turned it into a show.

We believe that such talks should have been done in private, not on the screen where Abhisit was only speaking to his fan club.

Weng: The government proposed the idea for the negotiations to be on TV but Nattawut and Thida, who were looking on, believed that the TV negotiations were making the UDD look bad, so we decided to call it off.

Jatuporn: The decision had nothing to do with Thaksin. The negotiations were not going anywhere.

It was only Khun Abhisit that was doing the talking on their side while all three on our side were trying to make our point. I believe that if it was just me and Khun Abhisit then it would have been more fruitful.

Chaturon Chaisang (Former PPP MP and negotiator on April 10): Some of the leaders of the UDD felt that, because there were already civilian casualties, if a deal was struck, the government was not going to be prosecuted. It made them feel that the deal was untenable.

For me personally, it was a wasted opportunity, we should’ve settled it then.

Not coming to a deal resulted in the execution of civilians by the military. It doesn’t mean the government is absolved. It is their fault that the military was carrying live rounds and it is their fault that so many civilians died.

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