Thai Protests Continue, but Scale Is Diminishing

BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters paraded through a major business district in Bangkok on Wednesday, stopping at the home of the prime minister to throw bags of their blood into the family compound.

On the fourth day of demonstrations aimed at bringing down the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, commentators questioned how long the Red Shirts, as the protesters are known, could sustain their presence in Bangkok.

Police said the ranks of the protesters, many of whom are farmers from the northeastern part of the country, had fallen sharply to 20,000 people from more than 100,000 on Sunday.

“The protesters are continuing to go back to their hometowns,” said Sgt. Nitipakorn Borikut of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police. “I don’t know if they will come back another day.”

With Thai country music blaring from speakers affixed to trucks, protest leaders drove to the United States and British Embassies and read statements asking for support, leaving soon after without incident.

Police and military forces have been largely accommodating of the protesters, even allowing a group of them past police lines Wednesday to get close enough to lob the plastic bags of blood over the walls of the prime minister’s private residence and onto the front gate. Mr. Abhisit has sought refuge at a military base during the protests.

On Tuesday, security forces allowed protesters at Government House, the seat of government, to walk through police lines to slosh gallons of blood on the iron gates in what they described as a sign of their frustration. Blood had been collected earlier Tuesday from thousands of volunteers.

The restraint of the security forces appears to be part of a government strategy to defeat what they see as the major objective of the protesters: provoking a confrontation that could rankle coalition partners and lead to louder calls for the dissolution of Parliament and new elections, which they are sure they would win.

The Thai Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying, “Authorities stand ready to facilitate the demonstrators’ return home if they so wish.”

The protesters appear to have the support of many Bangkok residents, who cheered them on from the roadsides Wednesday despite the inconvenience of the enormous convoys honking and tying up traffic. Others said they found the blood ceremony bizarre. The country’s deputy prime minister, Suthep Thuagsuban, echoed the feelings of many educated Thais when he said that the blood protests had “sent a message to the world that some sections of the Thai populace are crazy about black magic, which is unscientific and uncivilized.”

Some protesters said that by splattering blood on the symbols of power they were placing a curse on the government.

Many of the protesters were supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister who was removed from office in the 2006 military coup and now lives overseas. Others said they were demonstrating against the involvement of the military in politics and against the “aristocracy” — bureaucrats, privy counselors and the wealthy elite — which they feel wields too much power in Thailand.

[original]

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