Thai Red Shirts Prepare for Bloody Protest

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Thai Buddhist monks donate their blood on March 16, 2010, at an anti-government rally in Bangkok, Thailand

At noon, hundreds of protesters, known as the Red Shirts for the color they wear, were lining up at makeshift medical tents to donate 10 cc of blood each to be pooled and spilled Tuesday evening in front of Government House, the offices of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The symbolic blood gesture comes one day after Abhisit spurned the protesters' demands to resign and hold new elections.

"They will have to walk on the blood of the people,'' protest leader Nattawut Saikua told demonstrators when asking for the donations. Other leaders have threatened to throw the blood at the building, but it is unlikely they could get close enough; Government House is ringed by thousands of troops in riot gear. More than 30,000 troops have been stationed around Bangkok since Friday to keep order during the demonstrations. A similar protest by the Red Shirts last April turned violent.

"This shows we can spill our blood for our country without using violence,'' said Nawart Somsieng, a rice farmer from the northeastern Khon Kaen province as she entered one of three medical tents staffed by about 100 volunteer doctors and nurses from local hospitals. "In Vietnam, monks have burned themselves alive for their beliefs, so it is not difficult for us to give our blood for our belief in democracy," said Chitra Chitprasert, a retired office worker from Bangkok also participating in the blood drive.

Thailand's Red Cross Society had refused an appeal from the Red Shirt leaders to help in gathering the blood, saying it could not take blood for the purpose of a political protest. Thailand's Nurse and Midwife Council considered the blood letting unethical and possibly dangerous, and that the group might take action against nurses who participate. "We will consider punishing them on a case-by-case basis," council president Prof Vijit Sriruphan told The Nation newspaper. "They should know that collecting blood is only done for research or medical purposes."

Other medical professionals, however, were happy to help. "We volunteered to help take the blood because the people don't want this Prime Minister," said Tip Daosakhun, a nurse from Siriraj Hospital, where Thailand's constitutional monarch is recovering from a lung infection, as she worked in one of the medical tents.

Many of the protesters are from the poor rural areas of north and northeastern Thailand and are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in self-imposed exile rather than serve a two-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction. The protesters, who have numbered over 100,000 at their peak, have occupied the main road in the old quarter of Bangkok for four days in an attempt to pressure Abhisit to resign. By Tuesday morning, their numbers had thinned to no more than 20,000, as many needed to return to the farms or homes to earn a living. The crowds typically swell, however, in the evenings after the scorching sun of Thailand's hot season has set.

But even some Red Shirt supporters viewed the blood throwing plan as a desperate measure signaling the movement's goals had failed. "I'm loosing confidence,'' Lalida Phanyang, one Red Shirt supporter wrote on the group's Facebook wall. "It's a joke. This protest will turn into a humiliation,'' wrote Tawatchai Srihathai, another supporter. Red Shirt demonstrators have attempted to humiliate their political opponents in the past by throwing bottles and other objects at them, most notoriously bags of human feces. Two people were arrested in recent weeks for throwing bags of feces at Prime Minister Abhisit's home in two separate incidents.

Whatever bodily fluids may be involved, the Red Shirts insist that their message continues to be one of peaceful resistance. The movement's leaders have denied any involvement, however, in a grenade attack on an army base in Bangkok on Monday that wounded two soldiers. "We categorically deny any involvement and we hope the police catch the perpetrators,'' said Red Shirt spokesman Sean Boonpracong. Police have arrested two suspects for the attack. Protest organizers had planned to spread the blood at Government House in the evening, but then announced it would take place later in the afternoon as the donations began drying up.