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Thai crisis: not over yet
The Red Shirts Are Mobilizing

Anyone who thought that Thailand’s snap election earlier this month would end its political crisis has by now seen those illusions thoroughly dispelled.

Anti-government protestors are continuing their occupation of pockets of Bangkok, and their leader has sworn never to give in. The election itself was inconclusive, as protestors prevented people from voting in several districts. Meanwhile, supporters of the embattled President, known as “Red Shirts,” have begun holding rallies of their own and have clashed with anti-government protestors in some cities.

Red shirt gunmen allegedly attacked an anti-government protest site in Bangkok last night. Officials say at least 20 grenades were also thrown at protestors. In Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand, Red Shirt toughs led by a popular radio show host muscled their way into a restaurant where an anti-government singer was scheduled to perform. At a “war drum” meeting in a district west of Bangkok this weekend, thousands of Red Shirt leaders gathered to announce that they would begin targeting the anti-government protestors and their allies in the judicial system. “If we, the red shirts, do not come out, this government and democratic rule will be completely brought down by March,” one leader told a reporter from the Bangkok Post. “From today we will have to fight until victory. We have two choices—to win or get killed.”

The Red Shirts are mobilizing at an uncertain time for the government they support. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces a challenge from the judiciary, which is investigating a rice subsidy scheme that critics contend is simply an effort to buy votes from farmers at the expense of a thinly stretched public treasury. The farmers, for their part, say the Shinawatra administration has failed to pay for their rice as promised; they have held angry rallies and threatened to invade airports with their tractors.

Meanwhile, tourism is tanking and trade has slumped to its lowest level in four years. Against this backdrop the beloved but aging King is in poor health. When the inevitable comes, Thailand’s tenuous political situation will become even more unbalanced. The future of one of southeast Asia’s most prosperous and stable countries is on the line like never before.

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