|Red-shirted supporters of deposed Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra protested outside a military barracks in Bangkok. (AFP/ Getty Images)|
Thai protesters vow to spill their blood on government building
Tactic announced after PM refuses to meet demands
BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters started donating their own blood today as part of a plan to splatter the Thai government headquarters in a symbolic sacrifice to press their demands for new elections.
Hundreds of demonstrators formed long lines to have their blood drawn by nurses, a day after their leaders vowed to collect 1 million cubic centimeters of blood — the equivalent of 1,000 standard soft drink bottles — to spill at Government House by tonight, a tactic slammed by the Red Cross as wasteful and potentially unhygienic.
As many as 100,000 “Red Shirt’’ protesters converged Sunday on Bangkok to demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agree to dissolve parliament by midday yesterday. Abhisit refused and blanketed the capital in security, but said his government was open to listening to what else the protesters have to say.
Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader and doctor, said the blood plan would test Abhisit’s conscience. “Now that people have agreed to sacrifice their blood like this, how can he not make a sacrifice by dissolving the parliament,’’ Weng asked.
The Red Shirts include supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other activists who oppose the 2006 military coup that ousted him for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Thaksin’s popularity.
Yesterday, thousands of protesters departed from their encampment in downtown Bangkok to besiege an army base on the edge of the capital where Abhisit has partly been based during the protests. He also is believed to have departed the base several times by helicopter.
Protesters beseeched soldiers from outside the gates of the 11th Infantry Regiment, but withdrew after their noon deadline passed without even seeing the prime minister. Soldiers played songs composed by the Thai king in a bid to keep things calm.
Abhisit told a nationwide television audience that his government’s goal is not to “remain entrenched’’ but that it would not step down in response to the protesters. “The government must listen to the demonstrators. Although the demand can’t be met by noon, we are willing to hear what they say,’’ he said.
Charnvit Kasetsiri, a Thai historian, said the government has not come out ahead in the episode. “The fact that the prime minister has to resort to staying at the military base and nobody is aware of his whereabouts now indicates that the situation isn’t looking good,’’ he said. “The Red Shirts’ plan to pour blood is both symbolic and dynamic. They won’t back down that easily.’’
Two soldiers were wounded yesterday by four grenades that exploded inside the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment, known as the King’s Own Bodyguard, army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. He did not blame Red Shirt demonstrators, who were not in the area, but said there has been intelligence that some elements had been planning such attacks.
After withdrawing from the 11th Infantry base, protest organizers announced they were asking each demonstrator to donate between two and 20 teaspoons — 10 to 100 cubic centimeters — of blood. Their initial goal would be to collect 264 gallons, which would require donations from between 10,000 and 100,000 people — roughly the protest crowd’s peak size.
Dr. Ubonwon Charoonruangrit, a senior official of the Thai Red Cross Society, worried about the risks of untrained people drawing blood. She added that the collected blood “can save many lives.’’
Some 100,000 Red Shirt protesters have been camped out along a boulevard in of Bangkok, though their number had visibly fallen yesterday. A force of more than 50,000 security personnel has been mobilized in the capital.
For a second straight day, Thaksin spoke to the demonstrators by video, urging them to continue their struggle in a nonviolent fashion.