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Are the Red Shirts In Thailand Leading a Fight For Democracy Or Stirring Up a Sham Revolution?

A debate between two experts on the uprising and brutal military crackdown in Bangkok.

AMY GOODMAN: In Thailand, the government has rejected an offer by anti-government protesters to enter talks after a bloody week in Bangkok that's left at least thirty-eight protesters dead. Some fear the standoff could lead to an undeclared civil war.

The protesters are mostly rural and urban poor who are part of a group called the UDD, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. More commonly they're known as the Red Shirts. They have been occupying parts of downtown Bangkok for two months. The protesters are attempting to force the Prime Minister to step down and call new elections. Many of the Red Shirts are supporters of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire tycoon who was overthrown in a coup nearly four years ago.

The tension in Bangkok intensified five days ago when Thai troops began using force to remove the Red Shirts from their barricaded encampments. Live ammunition was fired at unarmed protesters and journalists. In addition to the thirty-eight protesters killed, hundreds have been wounded. The Thai government has defended the use of force, saying armed groups and terrorists tied to the Red Shirts have been attacking supporters of the government and Thai troops.

Earlier [this week], protest leader Nattawut Saikeau announced the Red Shirts are willing to enter into talks overseen by members of the Thai Senate.

    NATTAWUT SAIKEAU: [translated] The United Nations has not responded to our demand so far, but the request to stop the shooting is an urgent issue which cannot wait, not even a single minute. Therefore, the UDD will accept the senator’s proposal.

AMY GOODMAN: But the Thai government rejected the offer, saying talks would only begin when the protesters abandoned their barricaded camp in Bangkok. On Sunday, the Thai government also rejected a call by the Red Shirts for a ceasefire and UN-moderated talks.

    PANITAN WATTANAYAGORN: [translated] We reject their demands for UN mediation or for them to do to any activities in Thailand. No Thailand government has ever let anyone intervene with our internal affairs. We can solve our problems ourselves, but we are willing to listen.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Thailand, we’re joined by two guests who have been closely monitoring the situation in Thailand.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai dissident living in exile in Britain. He was a university lecturer in Thailand before having to flee after writing a book criticizing the 2006 military coup. He’s a Red Shirt supporter.

We're also joined by Philip Cunningham, a freelance journalist who’s covered Asia for over twenty years. He has taught at several universities in Thailand. His writings frequently appear in the Bangkok Post .

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Philip Cunningham is joining us from Japan.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, can you describe what is happening right now in Bangkok and what the Red Shirts want?

GILES JI UNGPAKORN: By the way, my name is Ji.

Well, what the Red Shirts want is democracy, because the present government was installed by the military, and it's actually the fruit of a military coup in 2006 and various judicial coups. So, demanding fresh elections, demanding proper democratic elections is perfectly legitimate. And even though they have been occupying the center of Bangkok for two months, it's only a shopping center and a site for luxury hotels, yet the government has deployed snipers and assassination squads. And since the beginning of April, they've actually been responsible for sixty-seven deaths and thousands of injuries. And really, the time has come for the government to order an immediate ceasefire and for them to enter into genuine talks with the Red Shirts.