Hugs and roses as Thailand protesters enter govt grounds

In jubilant scenes hard to imagine after days of clashes, protesters swept aside barricades in old Bangkok on Tuesday to occupy the grounds of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's office and warmly greet the police who, until just hours before, had rained teargas and rubber bullets upon them.

Cheering, flag-waving crowds marched through the gates of Government House, a heavily fortified flashpoint in a protracted protest aimed at toppling Yingluck's government and banishing the influence of her brother, exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"I feel great," said Supradith Kamlai (70), a retired nurse who thronged the area with thousands of other protesters after police were ordered to stand down on Tuesday morning.

"We're so happy it's over."

But, along with faint traces of tear gas, questions persist over how the hard-won breaching of police barricades would end the political deadlock.

As Thailand grapples with an uncertain future, it faces a fundamental question: can a crowd that dwindled to 9 000 protesters on Tuesday alter the results of a democratic election in a country of 66-million people? The speed with which street battles turned into smile fests suggested how quickly the country's dysfunctional politics could lurch back to violence again.

Temporary?
With Yingluck's government still in place, and thousands of protesters still occupying the finance ministry and other government buildings, the police withdrawal felt like a temporary de-escalation of tension before the 86th birthday celebrations on Thursday of King Bhumibol Adulyudej, revered by the protesters.

Yingluck shows no sign of heeding demands to either resign or call an election.

"The government is still doing its job," her deputy Pongthep Thepkanchana said.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to fight on.

"This is only a partial victory, it is not final," he said at a government complex in north Bangkok at which his supporters are camped.

At Government House, protesters swarmed over its lawns, but did not occupy the building, where soldiers were stationed.

"We've won here. We don't need to take over Government House," said Don (58) who didn't want his full name used.

"The fight isn't over, but we're winning."

'Good people'
The sudden refusal of the police to defend Government House might have made Yingluck look weak, but it has also stripped some of the symbolism from occupying the building.

By 11am on Tuesday, a large frontloader operated by protesters set about removing the concrete barricades protecting the Metropolitan Police Bureau headquarters, a short walk from Government House.

Protest guards linked arms to hold back an ebullient crowd.

"We don't want anyone to go inside and ruin government buildings, said Brenda Nong [51] a protester from Bangkok.

"We're good people. We're here for democracy."

Nearby, as the frontloader made short work of the barricades, hundreds of police watched, ate lunch or dozed in the shade.

Through a loudspeaker, a police officer urged his men to greet the approaching protesters "with a friendly smile".

With noon approaching, the frontloader swept aside the last concrete barrier, and a thousands-strong crowd blowing whistles and waving Thai flags surged into the area.

Police flanked the roadside, forming almost an honour guard, as protesters clasped their hands together in a wai, the traditional Thai greeting, or shook hands or hugged their former adversaries.

Many people were visibly moved.

Protesters made no attempt to enter the police headquarters, where they were met by uniformed officers handing out red roses.

The protesters shouted "Long live the king!" and marched on, holding the flags and flowers aloft.

'Lame-duck minister'
Even if Yingluck didn't immediately resign, she was now a lame-duck prime minister, said 70-year-old protester Supradith, who wore a floppy sun hat and a black T-shirt saying "No negotiations. No talks. No Thaksin regime."

"Nobody will listen to her anymore," she said.

Protest leaders have vilified the police as lackeys of Thaksin, himself a former officer, but protesters claim to bear no ill-will towards the rank-and-file who manned the barricades.

"We are your friends," shouted a protester from a truck moving past police packing up their things.

"You can go home now. Your wives and children are waiting."

For now, Bangkok is saddled with the mother of all clean-ups.

Roads around Government House were clogged with burned-out or broken-down police trucks and littered with rocks and broken glass.

Volunteers, one using a police riot shield, were already sweeping up the debris on Tuesday afternoon, aware that their former battleground is also the historic centre for public celebrations of the king's birthday. – Reuters

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Reuters
Guest Author
Advertising

READ IT IN FULL: Ramaphosa’s address on the extension of...

This is the full address given by President Cyril Ramaphosa on April 9

Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world