Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Deadly Shrine Bomb Shatters "Happiness" Coup Propaganda

Deadly Shrine Bomb Shatters "Happiness" Coup Propaganda

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Police hoping to boost tourists' confidence
visited one of Bangkok's raunchiest red-light enclaves and described
the security situation to foreign men drinking beer with Thai bar
girls, five nights after a pipe-bomb killed 20 people at a shrine.

Grinning foreigners, clutching chilled bottles of beer while sitting
next to dolled-up Thai women at bars in the Nana Entertainment Zone,
listened with surprise to National Police Chief Somyot Poompunmuang
and his uniformed officers.

The garish, multistory Nana cul-de-sac is popular for its sensational
striptease bars, uninhibited nude lesbian cabaret, campy transsexual
clubs and illicit prostitution.

The August 22 nighttime meet-and-greet was one of several examples of
damage control, including earlier assurances by Thailand's military
regime to international diplomats that their embassies, staff,
commercial interests and citizens would be protected.

Detectives meanwhile appeared on August 22 at apartment buildings in
various neighborhoods, handing out a wanted poster showing their only
suspect -- a young man in a yellow T-shirt.

Gleaned from CCTV pictures in and around the Hindu shrine where the
explosion occurred, the identikit picture showed a pale, bushy-headed
man with wispy facial hair, wearing black-rimmed glasses, short pants,
tennis shoes and wide bandages wrapped around both forearms, while
carrying a black backpack and small blue bag.

The wanted poster of the unidentified "Bad Man" also portrayed him in three other versions: without glasses, bald with glasses, and wearing a hat and glasses.

At this reporter's apartment building on August 22 afternoon, two plainclothes detectives politely questioned a 40-year-old unshaven German man who arrived in Thailand one day earlier to stay with friends.

"I heard about the bomb story, but I don't know why they are questioning me," the German said.

"We do not know the nationality of the bomber," Detective Athiphat Thammasri said in a brief interview while photographing the German and his passport in the building's parking lot where they stopped him.

"We do not have a name either," Mr. Athiphat said.

After the detectives departed, the wanted poster was pasted inside the building's elevator.

The wanted poster also began appearing on gigantic billboards scattered across Bangkok.

Several people said the picture resembles convicted Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The mysterious young man who allegedly planted the pipe-bomb at the glistening Hindu shrine in the congested heart of Bangkok did not know his way around this city very well.

He directed taxi drivers to and from the shrine by showing them pieces of paper and directions from Google maps on his phone's screen, police said.

But one week after the blast on August 17, it is the military regime's apparent cluelessness about who bombed the shrine or why, that has resulted in criticism of the junta's self-proclaimed prowess.

In May 2014, just before his required retirement as army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha led an unpopular bloodless coup against the elected government of premier Yingluck Shinawatra and arranged for himself to be prime minister.

But the shrine bomb shattered the dictatorship's 15-month-long expensive propaganda campaign which monotonously boasted that Mr. Prayuth seized power to "Return Happiness to the People."

Many among Thailand's 66 million mostly Buddhist population had already been ignoring Mr. Prayuth's weekly lectures which he requires to be broadcast nationwide simultaneously on all domestic TV channels.

Immediately after the explosion of ball-bearings, flames and shrapnel at the revered Erawan Shrine, many Thais went online, exchanging information with each other faster than the regime's censors could control.

"If happiness couldn't unite us, perhaps tragedy can," wrote Bangkok Post's influential and astute columnist Kong Rithdee.

Mr. Prayuth's post-bomb behavior also made many people unhappy, because he was conspicuous by his absence.

He did not personally visit any of the more than 100 wounded survivors in Bangkok's hospitals.

"Our prime minister -- who says he is here to serve and bring about peace in this country -- has failed to undertake a basic principle of being the leader of a nation," wrote Asia Focus editor Umesh Pandey.

"A visit by Gen. Prayuth would show he is more than a military general, but a human being as well."

Mr. Prayuth also did not attend a cathartic multi-faith prayer ceremony at the shrine on August 21, or any funerals in Thailand.

"I am not afraid of dying, but I am afraid others may die with me, as my risk is increasing by the day," Mr. Prayuth said, explaining his refusal to attend the public prayer ceremony which attracted others in his junta, alongside religious leaders and diplomats.

Bizarrely, he instead suggested Thailand's senior police should educate themselves about how to investigate the bombing by watching "Blue Bloods," a fictional American crime series about the New York Police Department, starring Tom Selleck.

"Police investigators, especially the national police chiefs, should watch this series," Mr. Prayuth told journalists.

"They will get tips, ideas and insights into their case," Mr. Prayuth said.

"The host of contradictory statements emanating from police -- and especially from the erratic and incompetent dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha -- suggest severe internal disarray, making it unclear whether the perpetrators will ever be caught," wrote Lee Jones, London University's senior lecturer in international politics who recently authored a book about "borderless threats and non-traditional security."

The military regime meanwhile freshened its public image on August 23.

"The Thai government would like to send a message to all foreigners who who plan to travel to Thailand for a visit -- be it for tourism, business, education, a meeting, a seminar, a study tour, trade exhibition or any other purpose -- that they can be sure of their safety during their stay in the country," announced junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkammerd despite the bomber still on the loose.

"As always, you will be greeted with Thai hospitality, Thai smiles and Thai hearts."

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Dunne Speaks: Can ACT's Dream Run Continue?

By most reckonings the ACT Party has had a very successful political year. Not only has its expanded Parliamentary team settled in well to its work, without controversy or scandal, but its leader has gained in community respect, and the party’s support, at least according to the public opinion polls, has increased sharply... More>>

Keith Rankin: Basic Universal Income And Economic Rights
"Broad growth is only going to come when you put money in the hands of people, and that's why we talk about a Universal Basic Income". [Ritu Dewan, Indian Society of Labour Economics]. (From How long before India's economy recovers, 'Context India', Al Jazeera, 31 Oct 2021.) India may be to the 'Revolution of the twenty-first century' that Russia was to the 'Revolution of the twentieth century'... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Foreseeable Risk: Omicron Makes Its Viral Debut
It has been written about more times than any care to remember. Pliny the Elder, that old cheek, told us that Africa always tended to bring forth something new: Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre. The suggestion was directed to hybrid animals, but in the weird pandemic wonderland that is COVID-19, all continents now find themselves bringing forth their types, making their contributions. It just so happens that it’s southern Africa’s turn... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>

Globetrotter: Why Julian Assange’s Inhumane Prosecution Imperils Justice For Us All

When I first saw Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison, in 2019, shortly after he had been dragged from his refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy, he said, “I think I am losing my mind.”
He was gaunt and emaciated, his eyes hollow and the thinness of his arms was emphasized by a yellow identifying cloth tied around his left arm... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Labour's High Water Mark
If I were still a member of the Labour Party I would be feeling a little concerned after this week’s Colmar Brunton public opinion poll. Not because the poll suggested Labour is going to lose office any time soon – it did not – nor because it showed other parties doing better – they are not... More>>