Thakisn Shinawatra broke his silence after the two-month red-shirt protest was ended by the government cracking down. It was the worst political crisis Thailand had experienced in recent history. Some 88 people died during the clashes, and more than 1,900 were injured.
The former prime minister, who is now living in Montenegro according to AFP, spoke live by phone to Lateline, an Australian (ABC) television news and current affairs programme, to give his version of events.
Speaking about the arrest warrant the authorities issued against him on terrorism charges, which could end in the death penalty, he said the indictment was politically motivated and baseless. “I have always advocated peaceful protests,” he said. “I always told my people that we, in Thailand, need reconciliation.”
His accusers claim that he funded the demonstrations, provided weapons to the “men in black” who carried out attacks and set fire to buildings, ordered former General Khattiya Sawasdipol (who was killed by a sniper on 13 May) to remain intransigent and adopt guerrilla tactics against the military
The government speaks “about reconciliation but [. . .] they use the iron fist approach”,” Thaksin said. This means they are more for “confrontation than reconciliation”.
He insists that he “never, never” supported the use of violence, and denies that armed men were present, setting fires and destroying property.
However, that the red shirts, or at least some of them, were directly responsible for the violence is demonstrated by tapes, recordings and eyewitness accounts by people who were inside the occupied area.
In fact, two foreigners, one from Great Britain, the other from Australia, have been charged in connection with the protests. Briton Jeff Savage, 48, is in particularly hot waters. In a video shot during the chaotic final days of the protest, he is seen inciting people to set fire to the Central World shopping centre.
What is more, Arisman Pongroengwrong, a leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), said during a rally that his movement had “three gems”, namely the masses, a party and assassins. This shows that the “men in black” supported the demonstrators.
In the meantime, the government and Thaksin are still blaming each other for a political crisis that brought the country to the brink of chaos.
Some political observers suggest that, “Perhaps the UDD hardliners hijacked and vetoed the negotiations [. . .]. But it was clear that the UDD moderates were intent on standing down”. Had more time been allotted to them to persuade their followers, they might have found “a peaceful way out”.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an internet security expert, said in an editorial on the Bangkok Post that last year, red shirts protested against Prime Minister Abhisit during the ASEAN summit. One person died on the occasion.
To calm down the opposition, the prime minister said he would introduce reforms, but he never did.
For Thitinan, the government must find ways to isolate Thaksin whilst at the same time bring the opposition back to the negotiating table. It must work “with their more moderate leaders, including some of the banned politicians from 2007”.
At the same time, “If Mr Abhisit is too compromised and tainted” with the recent violence, “he should consider his position and make a personal sacrifice to enable others to be put in place for the healing to take place.”