Thailand’s red shirt protests are still cool… for now

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The mass protest by the red shirts on Sunday ended quietly.

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The mass protest by the red shirts on Sunday ended quietly. Leaders deserve credit for keeping it peaceful and non-violent so far, as do government officials for keeping with their promises to refrain from the use of force.

On Monday, businesses will resume as usual, and government offices will also open after ministers considered whether to declare a holiday because of the protests.

However, political tension has not eased even if no violence has been reported. It is actually likely to heighten Monday as the UDD will put more pressure on the government, to try to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve the House by noon (0500 GMT Monday).

Red-shirt protesters are set to march Monday morning from the main protest site at Ratchadamnoen Avenue to the 11th Infantry Regiment barracks in Bangkhen. That is where Mr Abhisit has taken temporary refuge and established his “war room” to monitor the mass rally. They plan to lay siege to the army barracks to demand a response from the prime minister to their ultimatum.

It is still unclear what the UDD’s next move will be if that demand is rejected – which seems likely. The prime minister said earlier that he was ready to dissolve the House but would not do so under pressure from the protesters.

Some protest leaders said the demonstrators would return to the main protest site at Ratchadamnoen and the Democracy Monument, to carry on with the protest. Others, however, said that the protesters would scatter throughout the capital to cause traffic snarls.

The UDD’s lack of a strong or decisive response to Mr Abhisits anticipated rejection to their call for House dissolution indicates that their much publicised final showdown to topple the government still lacks the knockout punch. The one-million protesters expected by the UDD has not been achieved and remains a pipe dream. Without that magic figure to tip the balance in their favour, it is doubtful the UDD will be able to overthrow the government.

However, the mass rally which has attracted more than 100,000 according to the media, still remains a real cause of concern. The march on Monday from the main protest site to Bangkhen – even if peaceful – will cause traffic nightmares along the route, and adjacent areas.

As a precaution, the government has asked for troop reinforcements from the 2nd and 3rd army regions to help out at the 11th infantry regiment barrack. But the government is still hesitant to impose a state of emergency in the capital unless the situation deteriorates noticably.

Both the UDD and the government have been trying their best to avoid the label of villains for being the first to start violence. The longer the protest drags on, the more likely that one side, or both, will lose patience.

Despite the bluffs and counter-bluffs of both sides, Sunday’s peaceful mass protest is a healthy sign that should prevail throughout the duration of the protest.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.