Funeral of Red Shirt leader puts Thai junta on edge

Funeral of party figure who died in exile turns into anti-coup protest when mourners cheer on overthrown PM Yingluck

Funeral of Red Shirt leader puts Thai junta on edge

World Bulletin/News Desk

The funeral of a leading “Red Shirt” -- opponents of Thailand’s military and bureaucratic establishment -- turned into the first significant anti-coup protest in almost four months, Thai-language news website Prachatai reported Monday.

The body of Colonel Apiwan Wiriyachai -- who died from a lung infection October 6 while in the Philippines, where he had fled after a May 22 coup for fear of being arrested -- was cremated Sunday at a Buddhist temple in Nonthaburi in a ceremony presided over by overthrown prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 

Apiwan, a former deputy-house speaker, was a leading member of the Puea Thai Party -- the political vehicle of the Shinawatra clan.

Hundreds of soldiers and police officers were posted around the temple Sunday to control the crowd of about 10,000 mourners, who included the majority of Puea Thai executives and Red Shirt leaders. Intelligence officers mingled with the mourners within the temple compound.

Despite the security precautions, the ceremony took on an anti-coup flavor when some mourners responded to Yingluck’s arrival and movement through the dense crowd toward the coffin by shouting, "Yingluck, fight, fight!"

Trying to appease the crowd, she said no political gestures were allowed out of respect for the deceased.

Applause burst out as she made her exit, with dozens of mourners flashing a three-finger salute first used in the French revolution, but now synonymous with "The Hunger Games" series of films that has become a symbol for anti-coup protests.

Before the funeral, General Prawit Wongsuwan -- a key junta figure who holds the posts of deputy prime minister and defense minister -- had warned the events’ organizers not to turn it into a political gathering.

"It is okay for relatives, friends and people who respect him to mourn him at the funeral, but they will have to abide by the law. But if the gathering is about a political agenda and will lead to political chaos, we will send officials to look over the funeral," he said October 8.

Despite the political gestures Sunday, several Puea Thai and Red Shirt leaders insisted that the funeral was not an occasion for them to hatch a "plot" against the junta.

"Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to see reconciliation and the country moving forward," Puea Thai Secretary-General Phumtham Wechayachai said, according to Monday’s edition of The Nation. "We will make a decision on what to do after we see how the reforms go."

Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s elder brother, was prime minister from 2001 until he was ousted in a September 2006 coup. He has himself been living in exile, mostly in Dubai, since being sentenced to two years in jail for abuse of power in 2008. He remains widely popular among rural people in Thailand’s north and northeast -- mostly due to his populist policies, including quasi-free health coverage, debt alleviation and support for local investment.

The May 22 coup followed seven months of massive anti-government demonstrations that paralyzed parts of Bangkok, with protesters asking the departure of Yingluck’s government and the "eradication of the Thaksin regime" -- meaning the banning of all Shinawatra family members and allies from politics. The military justified its seizure of power by citing the risk of widespread violence after 28 people died during the demonstrations.

Since then, the military has concentrated power in its hands, appointing a National Legislative Assembly, a government in which junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha serves as premier, and a National Reform Council stacked with military officers and pro-establishment figures who will convene for its first session Tuesday.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Ekim 2014, 16:30

Muhammed Öylek