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Udon the Red HeartlandIvan T. Brecelic Salem-News.com
The Reds back Thaksin, a former prime minister overthrown by a 2006 military coup while visiting to the UN in New York.
(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.
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 Salem-News.com 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: http://tripatlas.com/stories.
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