Thai Queen attends protester cremation as report indicates explosive tear gas used

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

With the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) having called off Monday's demonstration and march on Bangkok's police headquarters, Thailand's Queen Sirikit (Thai: สมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์ พระบรมราชินีนาถ) and HRH Princess Chulabhorn Valayalaksana (Thai: สมเด็จพระเจ้าลูกเธอ เจ้าฟ้าจุฬาภรณวลัยลักษณ์ อัครราชกุมารี) attended the cremation and funeral of Angkana Radubpanyawoot, one of the protesters killed in clashes between police and PAD protesters last Tuesday.

The queen, consort of the highly popular and revered eighty-year old Thai monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej (Thai: ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), was joined by police chiefs, leaders of the PAD movement, and many protesters. Presiding over the ceremonies, the queen was accompanied by army chief Anupong Paojinda (Thai: อนุพงษ์ เผ่าจินดา), the opposition Democrat party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva (Thai: อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ), and newly elected Bangkok Governor, Apirak Kosayodhin (Thai: อภิรักษ์ โกษะโยธิน). Founder and de-facto head of the People's Alliance for Democracy movement, Sondhi Limthongkul (Thai: สนธิ ลิ้มทองกุล) attended as the protest group's representative, along with thousands of others mainly from the PAD.

Queen Sirikit spoke with Angkhana's father, Jinda Radappanyawut during the Buddhist cremation ceremony. He later discussed their conversation, detailing that the queen had given moral support and said that his daughter was a decent person who had been helping the King and working for the good of the nation. Jinda's wife, Angkhana's mother, was not present at the funeral; she continues to be treated for injuries sustained during the protest outside parliament. The Bangkok Post report detailing this meeting mentions that the king has donated funds to help those injured in the police clampdown.

At the closing of the funeral services there were scuffles between PAD protesters and the Army's Commander-in-Chief, Anupong Paojinda, as he attempted to leave. Security guards had to assist him in reaching his car and protesters banged on the car as it drove away.

Should Thailand's monarchy involve itself in the political situation like this?

With a sub-committee appointed by the country's Human Rights Commission due to report within the week, details are beginning to emerge accounting for the number of injuries and severity of some in last Tuesday's clashes outside parliament. Nearly 500 were injured as police employed tear gas to try and disperse the crowd of PAD protesters blockading parliament. The group, originally formed seeking to topple deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai party, had disbanded in September 2006 following Thaksin being removed by a coup. The 2007 general election saw them reform to oppose the new government formed by the People's Power Party (PPP) who are widely regarded as a proxy for the ex-PM living in exile in the UK. The PAD protest aimed to stop the PPP government from announcing their legislative programme which included measures to amend the constitution and rehabilitate Thaksin and others from the now-outlawed Thai Rak Thai party. Investigations started during the coup period leave Thaksin and others accused of vote buying and electoral fraud.

Porntip Rojanasunan, the director of Thailand's Central Institute of Forensic Science has indicated that the tear gas employed was likely responsible for the many injuries during the October 7 crackdown. A number of the canisters were found to contain RDX, a militarily employed explosive. RDX is considered a powerful explosive and the quantities likely involved would have left craters. Other types of tear gas were employed, manufactured in the United States and Spain, but during the protest it was the RDX-laced variety which originated in China that had been favoured. Porntip's agency demonstrated the firing of these tear gas canisters from a shotgun to the Human Rights Commission committee on Sunday, noting that one exploded canister "left a hole in a metal pipe". It is claimed that the lethal tear gas was sourced from a third party and not directly from China.

Along with the two fatalities, fifteen people remain hospitalised from last week's police action, with one critically injured having lost his right arm.

Monday's planned PAD protest and march on Bangkok police HQ was cancelled to allow people to attend the cremation and funeral services for the two dead. No new date for the protest has been announced.