- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BANGKOK | Thai protesters seeking a change of government turned to shock tactics Tuesday, pouring gallons of their own blood into a glistening puddle at the gate of the prime minister’s office.

The dramatic gesture, repeated in front of the headquarters of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiava’s Democrat Party, grabbed attention but put the “Red Shirt” protest movement no closer to its goal of forcing new elections.

More than 100,000 demonstrators from across the country gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, vowing to keep up their protest until victory. But Mr. Abhisit has rejected their demands to dissolve parliament, saying only that he will listen to the protesters’ point of view and leaving the situation in a stalemate.

The protesters are composed of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for purported corruption, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover. They believe Mr. Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other factions of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Mr. Thaksin’s popularity, particularly among the poor.

Thousands of Red Shirts formed long lines Tuesday morning to have their blood drawn by nurses, a day after their leaders vowed to collect at least 1 million cubic centimeters of blood — 264 gallons — to spill at Government House. They claimed to have collected 300,000 cubic centimeters.

Suriya Laemthong, 28, shielded his eyes with a baseball cap as a nurse pricked his arm. He said he doubted that the blood spilling would compel the government to step down but that he finds the protest leaders’ strategies “rational and acceptable.”

“If they say that we soldier on, I’m ready,” he said.

A few teaspoons of blood were drawn from each volunteer and then transferred into dozens of large plastic water jugs that were passed overhead through the crowd of cheering protesters before being delivered to Government House, the prime minister’s office.

Riot police allowed protest leaders to approach the iron front gate and pour out the blood, which oozed under the gate as national television broadcast the images live. A purported Brahmin priest in ceremonial robes performed an unorthodox black magic ritual on the Red Shirts’ behalf.

“The blood of the common people is mixing together to fight for democracy,” Natthawut Saikua, a Red Shirt leader, told cheering supporters. “When Abhisit works in his office, he will be reminded that he is sitting on the people’s blood.” Mr. Abhisit has not entered his office at Government House since preliminary protests started Friday.

Minutes after the spilling, a government medical cleanup team in white coats, face masks and rubber gloves hosed down the site. Health authorities had warned that the protest risked spreading disease if infected blood splashed on healthy bystanders.

Hundreds of protesters then marched and rode pickup trucks and motorcycles to the nearby ruling Democrat Party headquarters and splashed several more jugs of blood on the pavement outside. Protest leaders threatened to spill blood outside Mr. Abhisit’s home in an upscale Bangkok residential neighborhood Wednesday if their demands were not met.

Police Gen. Wichai Sangprapai said the number of demonstrators had dropped from its peak of roughly 100,000 on Sunday, and estimated that some 90,000 remained in the capital.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn called the blood-spilling events “symbolic” and said the government had no immediate plans to stop them, but that health authorities were looking into whether they violated the law.

“If they want to throw it and have a photo-op and have us clean it up later, I think it’s fine,” Mr. Panitan told foreign reporters. “Our goal is to make sure everyone is safe and everyone is accommodated.”

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