The clashes recall the infamous October 6, 1976 bloodbath at Thammasat University. This was the result of Thais turning against Thais, although the security forces had a heavy hand in the 1976 incident. This time it was a showdown between two groups of activists. The People's Alliance for Democracy has occupied Government House for a week to protest against the Samak government. On the other side were pro-government supporters led by a group called the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD).
No one can avoid blame. The political street protests have been going on for months. However, the atmosphere of the political gatherings rose to a disturbing level after the PAD raided the pro-government TV station NBT and Government House last week. Since then, the state has been trying to handle the case cautiously, as the situation could have turned deadly at any time. There were a series of clashes between protesters and the authorities but the conflicts were immediately quelled, albeit temporarily, until the incident yesterday morning.
The pro-government mob sprung up at Sanam Luang on Saturday and the authorities should have known better. The protesters eased past outnumbered police lines early on Tuesday morning and the rest is history. Pro- and anti-government protesters were wearing helmets and carrying batons as they ran amok through the streets. Civilians fought each other and threw rocks. Gunshots were fired. Some people were seen lying bleeding on the ground. One person died after being struck by hard objects. Dozens were injured, with at least three suffering from gunshot wounds.
If the PAD was provocative, the pro-government mob was bloodthirsty, and the authorities all but turned a blind eye to the initial recipe for disaster.
The incident prompted Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to invoke an emergency decree to quell the protests in Bangkok. Samak said he would order officials to investigate who was responsible for the fighting.
If we had learned lessons, this could have been prevented. The recent attack on the PAD rally in Udon Thani should have served as a warning. Why the police underestimated the DAAD - which started to confront the PAD on Saturday - was puzzling. There should have been an attempt to block this group of protesters from getting near Government House, which the PAD occupied.
The DAAD's move to confront the PAD yesterday morning was a dangerous one. But the PAD also crossed the line and has to take its fair share of responsibility. Its move to put NBT under siege is deplorable. So are the PAD protesters' blockades of airports and the disruption of certain public utilities.
The PAD has claimed that its political activities are warranted because there is no other way to deal with Samak, who is accused of being former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's proxy. But the PAD can't deny the fact that its actions gave the DAAD reason to spring to life and make the "reclamation of Government House" its agenda.
With Thailand's political crisis snowballing into violence and death, every side is now facing the most urgent question - not as idealists but simply as Thai citizens: how can we end this slide towards a terrible national wound that may never heal? The nation is on the brink of more bloodshed and if anyone believes there is a more important thing than stopping it now, that person will have to seriously question his own patriotism.