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The day all hell broke loose outside Parliament

Jul 30. 2017
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By The Nation

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IT WAS such a peaceful morning that yellow-shirt leader Sirichai Mai-ngam would never have imagined that any violent act would happen to break such serenity.

But it did. 

On the morning of October 7, 2008, amid the sound of music from some activists who had taken a break from a long demonstration the previous night, the first can of tear gas suddenly landed, exploding and sending white smoke all around.

Sirichai, who had been relaxing on a truck parked near the gates of Parliament, narrowly escaped by jumping down. He then joined the crowd of 600 to 800 demonstrators who had been resting nearby.

What was about to happen turned out to be one of the most chaotic and deadly scenes in Thai political history.

“The very first tear gas cans were fired from Kattayani Intersection,” Sirichai recalled. “I was fired at, too, and narrowly escaped it. I heard a leader telling the crowd to remain peaceful, but the mood was highly charged already and some of us started to fight back. That’s when the chaos began.”

It was on the night of October 6, 2008, that the leaders of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) resolved to step up pressure on the new prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat – who was Thaksin Shinawatra’s brother-in-law and was viewed as a proxy for the former leader.

Following the 2006 coup, the subsequent election saw the victory of Thaksin’s People Power Party, seen as a reincarnation of his first party, Thai Rak Thai. The PAD, which was formed in late 2005 to pressure Thaksin, resumed again to chase out the PPP-led government.

This happened just three months after Samak Sundaravej, the PPP leader, took office. He was then discharged from the premiership following an allegation concerning a conflict of interest over some TV shows he had hosted.

Somchai replaced him, and he was set to officially announce on October 7 his government policies to Parliament as required by the Constitution at the time .

The PAD, however, called for “final war” against Thaksin’s regime to begin, eventually resulting in a resolution to block Somchai from making that policy address.

“The reason we decided to step up our pressure against the government was because we wanted to end the so-called Thaksin regime and his nominees,” said Suriyasai Katasila, who was then the PAD coordinator. 

“We held the months-long demonstration as well as moving to several government compounds as part of our strategies, including Government House, but they had achieved little. 

“As the decision was made, we stressed non-violent demonstrations, and prohibited everyone from invading Parliament, because we were aware that they would have guns. Despite those instructions, a sorry state of violence did happen. The strong signal of the violence was that 

“My communication with some senior police officers was shut down. They turned off the phones.”

Sirichai and a few other PAD leaders subsequently led the crowd to Parliament in an attempt to block Somchai from entering the building and making his address.

The crowd of some 600 to 800 moved to Parliament on the night on October 6, and surrounded its main gates. A few 10-wheeled trucks with speakers attached to them were dispatched, and PAD leaders took turns speaking during breaks in a mini-concert of folk songs.

It was a peaceful night without any signs of violence, said Sirichai.

The violence broke with that first tear gas canister in the morning, he recalled. Sirichai said he believed that the security officers had tried every means to get parliamentarians into the compound so that the prime minister could give his speech. That’s the reason they decided to use force against the demonstrators.

After being bombarded by a countless number of teargas cans, the demonstrators retreated and parliamentarians, including Somchai, managed to enter the compound.

Around 9.30am, Somchai began to deliver his policy speech, but the situation inside Parliament was not all that smooth. Some senators, particularly the so-called 40 senators, protested, but to no avail.

Somchai managed to finish his speech around 2pm. He left the scene by helicopter, leaving the demonstrators and security officers confronting one another, before the violence broke out again.

His deputy prime minister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, resigned to take responsibility, but this did not improve the situation outside Parliament. Clashes continued and the number of casualties increased on both sides. One explosion occurred nearby, in front of Chat Thai Party, resultingresulted resulted in the death of Pol Colonel Maethee Chartmontri. 

Teargas canisters were fired against the demonstrators again in the evening, when the security officers wanted to force them to give way to allow parliamentarians to leave the compound.

Tear gas was fired until late into the evening, when darkness fell. Clashes were still sporadic and spilled over to some nearby areas. It was near the Police Metropolitan Bureau that Nong Bo, one of the yellow-shirt demonstrators, was killed mysteriously. She had wounds on her stomach and traces of a tear gas canister were found.

“If there was anything that I regret, it would be about our decisions and assessment of the situation at that time,” Sirichai said.

“Also, the state should really not use force and violence against citizens and their non-violent expressions. They should learn to listen and avoid adopting violence as a way to solve a problem.”

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