World News

Assault on police shows Thai protesters' ugly side

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The assault by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was swift and savage, a head-on charge by a convoy of vehicles speeding down the wrong side of an expressway into scores of unarmed police.

As the terrified officers fled, some of them jumping through the open door of accelerating police vans, wild-eyed young men burst from the PAD vehicles, attacking with sling shots, fireworks, iron bars and wooden stakes.

The onslaught lasted no more than 15 seconds but left the five-lane highway, the main access route to Bangkok’s besieged Suvarnabhumi airport, littered with broken glass and discarded police helmets and truncheons.

The police, who have orders not to retaliate against a movement backed by Bangkok’s establishment grandees, had virtually no warning.

“The yellow people are coming,” one officer shouted, turning to run as the PAD vanguard, a large sound-truck blaring out anti-government vitriol, careered round the bend of the expressway exit.

Yellow is the “birthday color” of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in whose name the PAD conducts an airport siege that has stranded thousands of visitors and threatened billions of dollars of damage to the export- and tourism-dependent economy.

It is not known what the revered monarch thinks of the protesters, who also claim to be a peaceful street movement dedicated to the removal of a corrupt but elected government.

The PAD’s leaders say their “security guards” carry clubs and iron bars only in self-defense.

After the police fled, the PAD stationed their own sentinels at the expressway exit ramp, ensuring no repeat attempt by police to choke off their main supply route.

At other, more minor approach roads round the besieged airport complex, one of the world’s largest, police are armed with automatic rifles. Nobody comes or goes.

Inexplicably, at the main expressway entrance where PAD reinforcements flow in constantly, police have neither the orders, inclination or fire-power to stop a single vehicle.

“If the yellow shirt people come with no weapons, then they can pass,” the commander on the ground, Police Colonel Wuttipong Petchgumneard, said only moments before the PAD assault.

Nearby, his disconsolate men huddled against the concrete crash barriers, counting down the minutes to the end of their eight-hour shift.

“We are just checking the numbers of the cars,” Wuttipong said, holding up a small digital camera, an almost comical gesture as several SUVs sped past in the dark.

Editing by Darren Schuettler and Michael Roddy