The feel from Ramkhamhaeng Road in Bangkok on Sunday afternoon was that an invading army had just been driven out. Chaos reigned in the streets. Everything was closed, including the road. But not by the police, a local told me. The police, in fact, were nowhere to be seen.
The only authority figures I saw were 10 young soldiers standing on the sidewalk at the beginning of Ramkhamhaeng soi 65. They had riot shields, but looked to be unarmed. After a few minutes they jumped into the back of an army vehicle and left.
The locals were out on the sidewalks and in the streets, milling around and taking pictures of the occasional smashed up vehicle in the street. It was the anti-government protesters who had closed off the street, I was told. It seems a bit of a stretch to call them “anti-government protesters”, though some of them clearly were with their flags and whistles. But virtually all the locals I saw appeared to be at least sympathetic to the anti-government protesters, and viewed the red-shirts as unwelcome invaders.
Ramkhamhaeng Road, normally one of the very busiest streets in Bangkok, was closed to traffic as far as I could see in both directions. And I walked from soi 65 at the FBT building, to soi 24 at Big C and where the university begins. They had the street blocked off even past those points.
I asked a young Thai woman where the police were. Her answer revealed the disdain many of the locals have for the police, whom they consider red-shirt allies. She said the police would not help them just hours earlier when running street clashes with the red shirts were taking place.
I realized then at least one reason why the police were nowhere to be seen. If they showed up, they might be attacked by some of the more “active” anti-government protesters milling around.
I asked her who had closed off the street. The police? No, she said the police had done nothing. It was the people who had closed the streets, to keep the red- shirts out, she said.
I saw a few of these protesters throwing lighted objects across the street onto the campus. A double-deck tour bus burst into flames on Ramkhamhaeng Road in front of Rajamangala Stadium, where the red-shirt rally was taking place until it was abruptly ended this morning after the violent clashes and deaths of last night and early this morning.
Cheers rose from the crowds as thick black smoke filled the air around the bus. Evidently the bus had been used to transport red-shirts to the rally site, or at least the locals thought so. (A media report later said an unidentified, badly burned body was found on the bus).
Someone threw a lighted object across the street. Then someone yelled something, and everyone ran for cover. Evidently there were still some red-shirts on campus, and the locals believed some of them were armed.
I asked the young Thai woman if all the red-shirts had left. She said no, that there were still some on the campus.
One young teenager walked by with a riot shield. Some had sticks and were occasionally beating vehicles that were already smashed-up.
Most of the people I saw did not look like university students. They looked like the local general public. Even most of the more active people riding around on motorcycles, yelling, and throwing objects did not really look like students.
Debris and broken glass gave evidence of the chaotic clashes that had just taken place. Some places looked like a war zone.
With most of the red-shirts gone, they had now reclaimed their territory.
Various media reports are putting the number killed in the clashes at four or five, and the injured at 57.