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Violence in Bangkok shocks Thai immigrants

They express hope that the nation, typically peaceful, will be able to overcome its political divisions.

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By Andy Rathbun
Herald Writer
Jack Chau missed seeing Bangkok burn by two weeks.
The Snohomish business owner was ending his annual trip to Thailand’s capital earlier this month, as protesters were massing on the streets.
He left before the protests exploded in violence this week, leaving more than one dozen people dead.
“The protesters don’t have the right to burn Bangkok down,” Chau said, sitting in his restaurant, Thai Kitchen. “It shouldn’t be violent. It shouldn’t be fighting.”
Chau’s sentiment was echoed by other Thai immigrants living in Snohomish County. All expressed dismay at news reports coming out of the typically peaceful Buddhist nation.
Tensions in Thailand have been building for much of the decade. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was a divisive figure. The billionaire businessman was seen as a champion of the poor by some and a corrupt leader by others. He was unseated in a nonviolent 2006 coup.
A new prime minister backed by the government took office. The political divisions are visible. Some in the country wear yellow shirts, a sign they support the current government. Others, many supporters of Thaksin, wear red and are pushing for change.
The violence earlier this week occurred after the government cracked down on the red shirt protesters, with both sides participating in the fighting.
While a fragile peace is now in place, anxiety remains following the outburst, unprecedented in recent history.
Sara Curran, a professor at the University of Washington who studies Thailand, said it’s difficult to assign blame in the incidents. Concrete information has been in short supply.
“It’s hard to understand the role of the state,” Curran said. “It’s hard to know, because the press has been shut down. You don’t know exactly who the players are.”
Kantathi Suphamongkhon served as minister of foreign affairs during Thaksin’s time in office, and now is a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. He emphasized that he does not identify himself with either side.
“The only way to proceed forward is for Thais to use the energy they used in the past few years to destroy one another, to use the energy to try and find a solution together,” he said.
Locally, members of the Thai community expressed shock at the violence, and hope that it is ending.
Duen Ziemba was worshipping at a Buddhist temple in Woodinville on Thursday. She said Thaksin was a poor leader, and that the media have oversimplified the situation.
“It sounds like the government is bullying the poor people, but in reality, it’s more complicated than that,” she said.
She said all of her family remains in Thailand, but she isn’t worried about them.
“They’re safe,” she said. “But I feel bad for the whole country.”
Yupa McCall, owner of Yupa’s Thai Cuisine in Everett, said she wants to see order maintained. During her last trip to Thailand, in 2008, she was dismayed to see divisions taking hold in the country.
Like others, she hopes the Thai people are able to come together, and soon.
“I feel sick in my guts every time I’m reading the news,” she said.
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455;
Story tags » EverettSnohomishPoverty

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