January 14, 2014 00:00
By Veena Thoopkrajae
Despite the controversial nature of the "Bangkok shutdown", there was no shortage of protesters, with many arriving early from the provinces to stake their place.
Many protesters from the South arrived a day before the siege kicked off yesterday, setting up tents on footpaths and under the BTS overhead tracks in the Siam Square area, near the key rally site at Pathum Wan intersection.
The Bangkok governor and his counterparts from the provinces told The Nation they had every faith the shutdown plan would work and create enough “pain to require major political surgery”.
Several of the folks from the provinces hailed from Surat Thani – People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) leader Suthep Thaugsuban’s home province – and they arrived in Bangkok on Sunday.
“Don’t get us wrong. We didn’t like Suthep that much until he started leading this protest. We could no longer put up with the government’s mishandling of the palm and rubber issues. Believe me, us southerners would not show up if the situation was not so serious,” Sa-nga Detmanee, a rubber farmer from Surat Thani, explained.
Another woman who owns a rubber plant in Phang Nga said she has been in Bangkok for nearly two months know. “I will most probably be here until the end. I have just volunteered to work as a guard at the rally.”
Bangkokians began arriving at the Pathum Wan rally site early yesterday morning to join others who had spent the night there. Most of these city people had participated in earlier PDRC rallies and did not let the negative publicity about the shutdown deter them. Some came to rally with their alumni, others joined their colleagues.
Pratheep Taweewatpreecha, an engineer in his late 40s, arrived at Pathum Wan intersection in the morning with a group from Chulalongkorn University’s Engineering Faculty. “I believe in exercising our rights peacefully and we will be here till the end unless there are any clashes,” he said.
Chokechai Suthithamcharit, an engineer, also said he had never thought twice about joining the rally, adding that his wife had even taken a day off work so she could take part yesterday.
The shutdown began peacefully yesterday, despite it being dubbed an “extreme” measure. It was business as usual at most key shopping centres near rally sites, namely Siam Discovery, Siam Centre, Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Central Chidlom, the Emporium and Central Lat Phrao, though most of them closed at 8pm yesterday, citing traffic as a reason.
Coffee shops and shopping malls near rally sites were also an “oasis” for protesters, who could rest there in air-conditioned comfort, dine or use the toilet.
Tourists were spotted in most major shopping areas, including Silom and Siam, despite the many travel warnings. A group of British tourists walking along the rally site near Sala Daeng intersection said they were not at all worried about the situation.
“I’m not worried, but I want to know what they are doing,” an Italian tourist, who was taking photographs of protesters at Siam Centre, said.
Since most roads leading to the rally stages were blocked, the mass-transit system, namely BTS Skytrain, the MRT and the Airport Rail link became the key means of transport, with many people opting for bicycles and motorbike taxis to make their way through blocked streets.
The rallies were also a great attraction for freelance journalists and photographers. A freelance photographer, who has been covering the rally from the start, said: “I join the protest in the day and go home at night to work.”
Though most protesters – like their leader Suthep – don’t really know how long this “fight” will continue and what will come of it, they are determined to continue till the end.
When the protest leaders moved the key rally site from Democracy Monument to Pathum Wan intersection, the crowds followed along with volunteer staff, ranging from medical staff to garbage collectors. Stalls offering free food were seen being set up as of press time, while souvenir shops were mushrooming along most major sites.
“It’s a shame the protest has moved. I cleared all my debts selling souvenirs here,” said a vendor, who has no plans to move to the new site.