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Nov-09-2010 15:50printcomments

Udon the Red Heartland

The Reds back Thaksin, a former prime minister overthrown by a 2006 military coup while visiting to the UN in New York.

Thaksin supporters show their love - In Thai the sign says, WE MISS TAKSIN
Thaksin supporters show their love - In Thai the sign says, WE MISS TAKSIN. For larger images, visit

(UDON, Thailand) - Udon, the largest northeastern City, is considered the heart of the Red Shirt movement in Thailand’s color-coded politics. Only last month was the State of Emergency lifted from Udon, which is 700 kilometers from Bangkok, and it’s business as usual reports I.T.B.

Only a week ago I chanced upon a motor show in a large concrete area in the heart of the old part of the city. Thais love their Toyotas and their coyote girls. And I was lucky to take a few photos of those wild gyrating dancers who can take a Motor Show up a few bars!

Most evenings I walk around the large concrete park, flanked on one side by a 7/11, and the other, a very old temple and marvel at the Thais at play. While one group is flying their home made jets by remote control, another couple is playing bowls with thick led balls; while further up, an elderly couple is doing Tai Chi.

Back tracking

I arrived in Bangkok 3 months ago. The military were about to disperse the Red Shirt demonstrators at Rachaprasong, an upmarket shopping district in Bangkok’s downtown, where they had been camping out for 9 weeks, trying to pressure the illegitimate government to call for a fresh election.

I left Bangkok the day the government had imposed curfew. I was in Rachaburri, and could help myself to a midnight snack at 7/11, while in Bangkok shelves were empty, and there were mad shopping sprees before the Bangkok residents had to be home by 8:00 p.m.

The Reds are pro- Thaksin, a former prime minister who was overthrown by a military coup in 2006 while on a visit to the United Nations in New York. The military set up their own government, then handed over the reigns for fresh elections. But Thaksin's proxy party won that election by a landslide. Still, his brother-in-law, who was PM, was ordered by the courts to step down over a conflict of interest. Then Samak, another old time politician, was elected by the Red Shirt voters, but later dismissed over his TV cooking show; another case of conflict of interest.

Now the Democrats are in power.

They had boycotted an earlier election that Thaksin’s proxy party won by a landslide. So another round of elections had to be called, and this time the Democrats won when a faction group of Thaksin's crossed sides.

There are the Yellow shirts too. They were responsible for closing down two airports, and not one of the protesters has been sentenced while hundreds of thousands of travelers were stranded.

From April to May of this year, 91 people were killed on the streets of Bangkok. Most of them were unarmed demonstrators. Many of the leaders have been put in jail, and those sympathetic towards the Red’s movement, known as United Front Against Democracy, were either jailed or disappeared. Some were tortured, according to Amnesty International.

Tonight's rally was the biggest since the crackdown in May. Their voices were silenced under strict censorship. But up here in Udon, the proud locals go to the beat of their own drum. Tuk Tuk drivers decorated their rigs with adorning red flags. When the Rally concluded, thousands of red lanterns were sent up into the night sky, like beautiful tracer bullets in slow motions.

Standing up on the stage was Jatupon, a core red shirt leader and Member of Parliament for the Pheu Thai Party, and the only leader not jailed. MP’s get special treatment in Thailand. He spoke elegantly to the 5000 locals who all had their red clappers and red flags, which they’d let it rip when they agreed with the speaker on the stage. Then another man would come out, give a heated speech, “We don’t like these double standards, lets bring back Thaksin.” The music would begin and out came the dancing girls, while the man would sing a song from the Red Album, which was sold at stalls. Most proceeds from the CDs and other paraphernalia being sold this night would be donated to victims of the crack down.

I was the only foreigner up near the stage. I didn’t see any others, I guess they were at the other part of town at the beer bars. The Reds, who have been branded as terrorists in the press, were the most affable and helpful people I could ever meet.

What annoyed most locals was how the Bangkok elites had vilified their role in the Bangkok demonstration, and thus ruining the reputation of their dear Udon.

This was a special night. I left the charged environment of the Rally, with only a handful of police on patrol, and walked down to the lake, and listened to the sad songs of better things to come carry across the cool night air.

It sent a chill down my spine, that lovers of democracy had to die for their beliefs. But their spirits were more upbeat.

“We will never lose this battle,” said one man at the rally.

“We are sick of seeing two systems; one for the Yellow shirts, and one for us. There must be one justice system for all Thais.”

Only then did I realize was this color coded battle was all about.

As the sad songs carried across Udon, a eulogy to those who had died for democracy, I came across an old Colonial era house, which was reflected in the pond. This was a good metaphor for the Reds, who saw themselves as a pale reflection of the elite who rule this country.

Ivan T. Brecelic has been writing about South East Asia for the past two decades. In his own words, "He is attracted to the extreme side of life where humanity functions at its best." Perhaps that is why Ivan has been following the search for Sean Flynn, son of swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn, who went missing in April 1970 when the U.S. military invaded Cambodia. His work in this area crosses paths with founder Tim King, who has been following the Sean Flynn story for many years. Of particular interest is Ivan's coverage of fellow Australian Dave MacMillan's search for this historic photojournalist.

Ivan's writing takes you on a fascinating journey; from the bustling and vibrant crowds of SE Asia; to the tranquil side of art and expression; packed with images and stories that will leave readers thought filled and intrigued. His feature articles have appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Courier Mail, Ralph, and publications in Europe, syndicated by Planet Syndication.

Learn more about Thomas Brecelic's work, visit:

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Anonymous November 14, 2010 8:17 pm (Pacific time)

Good article but I notice a mistake. Quote: "They had boycotted an earlier election that Thaksin’s proxy party won by a landslide. So another round of elections had to be called, and this time the Democrats won when a faction group of Thaksin's crossed sides." 1: The Democrats boicoted the election in april 2006, before the coup. In december 2007, who was the last general election, they lose, they never won. They win the power because of the pressure of the PAD (occupation of airports) the military and the judges.

PAPA November 13, 2010 8:57 pm (Pacific time)

Just a minor point, but aren't both Khon Kaen and Khorat bigger than Udon?

thomas brecelic November 13, 2010 4:43 pm (Pacific time)

Hi, I appreciate all your comments, sounds like this Ivan is a real idiot. Please refer to his other article, while the shit was hitting the fan in May. You might realise he is very aware of the situation, and we must understand it's a more complex issue than can be covered in the review of a rally that that the author was lucky to cover.

Lol November 13, 2010 1:34 pm (Pacific time)

Actually Samak was PM first, then Thaksin's brother-in-law. Samak openly said he was the fugitive's proxy. Such open corruption and nepotism is ok I guess, as long as 3rd grade educated yokels pulled the lever for them after getting their 500 baht, shot of whiskey and their village fund topped off so they can buy new pickup trucks. With such dedication to journalistic integrity, deep research, and attention to detail, sometimes I wonder why in 2010 we are still so backwards!!! I wonder what else ole Ivan got mixed up in his article. Probably a lot.

Tony November 13, 2010 1:28 pm (Pacific time)

These are exploited imbeciles getting handed circus and bread to create unrest in their own country to their own detriment for a billionaire scam artist living in luxury abroad. At least 6 of those 91 killed were soldiers, the first to die, murdered by armed factions of the UDD - admitted openly by UDD's own spokesman. Another killed by a UDD M-79. Good bet many more were killed by the careless mercenaries working under Seh Daeng, according to him, he had 300+ armed and ready. These people need educations not more rigged, bought, skewed elections, and goodies thrown to them like dogs by the likes of Jatuporn. This Ivan must be the most naive man on earth, or woefully ignorant to what's going on. Udon was the heart of the Maoist CPT, armed uprising in the 60's, btw, and today, like in the 60's, its being called "the people's war." I guess inconvenient things like facts don't wash well in your "colorful" story.

thomas brecelic November 11, 2010 7:48 pm (Pacific time)

hi, thanks for your comment, well during the day there were figures varying from 10 000 to 20 000, but when I arrived in the evening, there was 5000, still, it was one of the biggest rallies since the crack down, a Thai friend has verified that. how could there be 15000 red shirts demonstrating at rachprasong, when the state of emergency in bkk hasn't been lifted, that would be cause for bringing in the military, for sure!

observer November 10, 2010 7:03 am (Pacific time)

Excuse my frankness and let me correct one of your observations. The recent rally of the redhsirts was definitely not the biggest one since the crackdown on May. On September 19 of this year there were between 15'000 and 20'000 redshirts demonstrating on Ratchaprasong: On October 17 there were more than 5'000 redshirts rallying in Ayutthaya: The rally described here was the biggest rally of the redhsirts in Udon since the crackdon but definitely not the biggest one in Thailand.

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