Leaders of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos yesterday called off their protests following rioting that left two dead and more than 120 injured across Bangkok.
Police issued warrants for 14 protest leaders, including the former prime minister whose ouster is at the heart of three years of political turmoil.
The swift and unexpected resolution ended with a final crowd of 2,000 die-hard protesters dutifully lining up for waiting government buses to take them home. There were no confrontations with the combat troops ringing the demonstrators’ last stronghold, nor any visible anger. Many looked broken, tired and almost in shock.
Thailand’s Deputy Police Commissioner Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said that four of the protest leaders had surrendered and would be interrogated. They were seen taken to nearby police headquarters.
Later, metropolitan police spokesman Suporn Pansua said the Bangkok Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against 14 protest leaders including deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who went into self-imposed exile last year before a court convicted him of violating a conflict of interest law.
The arrest warrants cited the protest leaders for creating a public disturbance, which carries prison terms of up to seven years, and illegal assembly, which carries a term of up to three years.
“We have decided to call off the rally today because many brothers and sisters have been hurt and killed,” protest leader Suporn Attawong said. “And we will not allow more deaths.”
Jakrapob Penkair, another protest leader, also said the movement, which is demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and new elections, “would continue fighting.”
The leaders did not specify what they would do next.
“We have not achieved our goal of toppling the status quo and returning power to the majority of the people. We have not achieved our goal of returning the army to the barracks and stopping the ruling elite from intervening in politics. Until that happens, many won’t be giving up,” Jakrapob said.
The protesters flashed victory signs and shed tears as they walked away or boarded buses provided by the military. In the end, even the police struck a tender note.
“Please take care of your children and the elderly. Please be careful and if you need anything, let the police know,” one police commander said through a megaphone. “While you are waiting [for the buses], please stay in the shade.”
The government announced it was adding two more days to the three-day Thai New Year holiday, which began on Monday, to ensure safety and repair damage from the violence.
Despite the turmoil, thousands of Thais, along with foreign tourists, reveled through the night and doused each other with water to usher in the New Year.
“I don’t feel that we lost. We were only in a disadvantageous position. We only had heart. We didn’t have weapons,” said Siri Kadmai, a 45-year-old worker.