In Bangkok, thousands pray for peace
by Weena Kowitwanij
Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus gather at dawn at ten points in the capital to renew an appeal for reconciliation. Analysts say divisions are deep; only major socio-political reforms can re-unify the country. The red shirts’ surrender does not mean peace.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Bangkok residents woke up at dawn this morning to take part in inter-faith prayers for peace and reconciliation, organised in at least 10 locations across the capital. The voices of more than a thousand Buddhist monks blended with the litanies of Muslim imams, Christian clergymen and leaders and Hindu believers. In the past few weeks, this metropolis of 15 million people was the scene of demonstrations by red shirt protesters, which left 83 people dead and more than 1,900 injured.

For analysts, without major reforms to a political system that protesters claim favours an "establishment elite" over rural masses, such prayers and calls for reconciliation will not end a polarising crisis.

Those who back the red shirts, supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (now in exile), will try to develop new forms of protests, which will cost billions of dollars to the economy.

In the last few days, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reiterated his plan for reconciliation, including political reforms and greater social justice. However, nine weeks of protests, the worst in the country’s recent history, have left their mark.

Many political observers note that the prime minister’s plan is not likely to work without input from the opposition, which is still led by Thaksin.

In an editorial in the Bangkok Post, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and Internet, said, “Picking up the pieces from the last two months will be arduous, and this is all just a beginning.”

For him, it was a mistake to allow Thaksin to unify opposition groups under his wing. Now it is necessary to work with the reds’ “more moderate leaders”. At the same time, if Abhisit appears “too compromised” with the recent crackdown, he should “make a personal sacrifice to enable others to be put in place for the healing.”

For the Daily Newspaper, “The surrender of the red-shirt leaders is still not the end”. Nothing can guarantee that it can bring peace to the country; time is still needed.

Sadly, “How many people die does not trouble the Godfather of the red;” indeed, Thaksin once said, “If I do not survive, no one else will survive.”

Buddhist leaders turned to AsiaNews to give their appeal for peace a broader audience.

Phra Phaisarn Visalo, a monk from the Erawan temple (Chaiyapoom province), said, “Dharma can end the violence based on social justice.” This can be done if people are invited “to share resources and help the poor.” But “peace will take time,” he added, for “we must learn from the mistakes of the past.”

Phramahawuthichai Vachiragaethee, director of Vimuttayalai Buddhist Institute Phramahawuthichai, suggests, “We at least try to avoid making matters worse by claiming to be right and others wrong—no one is totally right or totally wrong. Each side has its own lot of errors”. Instead, it is better to seek a solution “with a conscience and wisdom”.