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Thailand’s flabby military

Soldiers have been hit by their own tear gas. Riot police scattered in fear when a party balloon popped. An anti-government protester, surrounded by security forces, escaped down a rope from a hotel balcony to the cheers of supporters.

world Updated: May 19, 2010 01:02 IST

Soldiers have been hit by their own tear gas. Riot police scattered in fear when a party balloon popped. An anti-government protester, surrounded by security forces, escaped down a rope from a hotel balcony to the cheers of supporters.

In the two-month standoff between Thai security forces and protesters in Bangkok, there have been times when the demonstrators have seemed more organised and the troops hobbled by incompetence, divided loyalties and dangerous infighting. Some troops have seemed unwilling to obey government orders. Others openly fraternised with the Red Shirt demonstrators — a motley alliance of rural and urban poor.

Rather than quash the protest movement while it was vulnerable, these actions have allowed the number of demonstrators to mushroom and fortify themselves.

“If Red Shirt organisation and staying power has proved surprising, the performance of the security forces has been nothing less than alarming,” said Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst. “A remarkable display of incompetence and inaction has seen swaths of the capital city calmly surrendered to mob rule.”

Authorities are trying to choke off a 3-square-kilometre area of downtown Bangkok where several thousand die-hard protesters remain entrenched behind barricades of bamboo spikes and tires.

Government says no to talks

The Thai government rejected a proposal on Tuesday for peace talks with leaders of the Red Shirt protesters to end the deadly mayhem gripping Bangkok, saying negotiations cannot start until the protesters disperse. The decision dashed hopes of stemming the crisis after five days of violence that has left 38 people dead.

Thousands of Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, remain camped behind barricades to press their demand for quick national elections.