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Cablegate: Thailand: Red Constitution Day Rally Peaceful

VZCZCXRO3388
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #3115/01 3450823
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110823Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9238
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2162
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7764
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 6034
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0238
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7377
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 003115

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND: RED CONSTITUTION DAY RALLY PEACEFUL

REF: A. BANGKOK 3067 (RED-SHIRTS SET THEIR SIGHTS ON
DECEMBER)
B. BANGKOK 2405 (THAILAND'S MARCHING SEASON)

BANGKOK 00003115 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but unclassified, please treat accordingly.

1. (U) Summary: The United Front for Democracy Against
Dictatorship (UDD, or "red-shirts") rallied at the Democracy
Monument in downtown Bangkok December 10 to mark Thailand's
Constitution Day holiday. The gathering, which at its peak
included over 20,000 people, was peaceful and largely free
from the vitriolic rhetoric that has marked previous UDD
rallies. As promised, red-shirt agitator Maj. Gen. Khatthiya
Sawasdiphol, aka Seh Daeng, was present, as were dozens of
black-clad guards identified by Khattiya as thahan phraan
(paramilitary rangers). Former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra addressed the crowd via video link and led a
candle-lighting ceremony in honor of King Bhumibol's December
5 birthday. Red-shirt core leader Vira Musikapong announced
during the rally that he would step down from his position as
UDD Chairman next year, while promising more vigorous action
to force the Abhisit government from office in 2010.

2. (SBU) Comment: The subdued nature of this meeting--welcome
given the highly charged talk that has come out of the
red-shirt camp of late--should not be mistaken as a sign that
the UDD is backing off. With the King's birthday festivities
only recently concluded--indeed, the rally interrupted the
week-long festivities marking the birthday along
Ratchadamnoen Avenue--there was a palpable tone of reverence
for the monarchy present during the rally, as well as a
notable reduction in the vitriol usually aimed at Prime
Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep
Thuaksuban, and Privy Council President Gen. Prem Tinsulanond
(with the latter attacked, but not by name this time). With
the government's decision to not invoke the Internal Security
Act (ISA) for this rally, there were no soldiers present,
contributing to a more relaxed atmosphere. UDD leaders
promised to continue their efforts in January, portending a
return to their usual fiery rhetoric aimed at bringing down
the Abhisit administration; red leader Jaran told us at an
evening event December 8 to expect February to be a truly hot
month. We will continue to reiterate our basic message
advocating peaceful expression of political views and
non-resort to violence in meetings with red leaders (REF A).
End Summary and Comment.

GENERALLY SUBDUED ATMOSPHERE
----------------------------

3. (SBU) The red-shirt movement held its largest rally in
Bangkok since September (REF B), gathering at the Democracy
Monument on December 10. This rally lacked the tense
undercurrent that has marked many previous UDD protests. The
significantly reduced security presence, a function of the
government's decision not to invoke the ISA, was one factor;
several people at the protest told us that the lack of a
military presence helped reduce the tension. Proximity to
the King's birthday, in the space used by the public to
celebrate his life the previous week, was another.
Crowd-control police were deployed around the immediate
perimeter of the protest site, and worked side-by-side with
UDD guards--identified by black armbands emblazoned with the
word "guard"--to inspect the bags of people entering the
area, and regular police were also stationed a few blocks
further out from the site.

4. (U) Many of the speeches focused on the UDD,s goal of
reinstating the 1997 Constitution. The harsh criticisms of
PM Abhisit, DPM Suthep, and Privy Council chairman Prem that
have been staples of recent rallies were notably muted at
this one, though Prem came in for some unnamed criticism.
Keeping with the spirit of the week surrounding the King's
birthday, speakers emphasized the UDD's commitment to
upholding the monarchy as a central pillar to the Thai
system. Several UDD core leaders also implored members of
the red-shirt movement to ensure that the protests remained
free of violence, a message that Mission has repeatedly
underscored in recent meetings with the UDD leadership,

BANGKOK 00003115 002.2 OF 002


including December 8 with red leader Jaran, who complained
that, "every time we see you, you tell us to avoid violence."
One UDD speaker from the stage castigated vendors who were
selling alcohol, saying that the red-shirts needed to avoid
any appearance of impropriety that the government could then
use against them.

5. (SBU) As is the case with most red-shirt gatherings, the
crowds were initially relatively small, before swelling after
6 PM. The Bangkok police, who have reliably estimated crowd
sizes at previous protests, told us that there were
approximately 23,000 at the rally's peak during Thaksin's
phone-in. Red self-estimates were, as usual, overstated.
UDD spokesman Sean Boonpracong claimed there were over 30,000
people in attendance. One ranger/thahan phraan we spoke with
went so far as to claim at least 100,000 people attended the
rally.

THAKSIN ADDRESSES CROWD, VIRA ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (SBU) Thaksin's 35-minute address focused largely on the
constitution, the theme of this rally on the national holiday
commemorating the 1932 constitution marking Thailand's
transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. In
contrast to previous video addresses in which he had dressed
casually, Thaksin appeared wearing a dark suit with a red
tie, and stood in front of a large portrait of King Bhumibol.
He then led the crowd in a candle-lighting ceremony to honor
the King's 82nd birthday, followed by singing of songs for
both the King and the Queen. One yellow-leaning contact
caustically SMSed us after the appearance, noting that
Thaksin had been advised to wear a pink tie, the color chosen
this year to honor the King and his recovery from extended
illness, yet went "red" instead.

7. (SBU) UDD Chairman Vira spoke after Thaksin. Vira
promised that the UDD rallies would pick up in intensity in
the New Year, with the aim of restoring the 1997 Constitution
and chasing out the Abhisit administration. He then
announced his intent to resign as head of the UDD, stating
that it was necessary for democratic development and
stressing that the movement should not follow one single
person. (Note: Vira told us in September 2008 that, as the
eldest red leader, now over 60, it was time for him to step
aside and allow a new generation to take over. However, the
opposite occurred--his prominence within the red-shirt
movement proceeded to increase, a likely sign of the respect
he has across the spectrum, even among non-red-shirts. End
Note.)

SEH DAENG AND THE RANGERS
-------------------------

8. (U) Trouble-making renegade MGEN Khattiya, aka Seh Daeng,
was also present at the rally, but he did not address the
crowd directly, nor did he appear on the stage. His
reception among the crowd, however, was like that of a rock
star. Surrounded by a human chain to hold people back, he
signed t-shirts and other red paraphernalia as he worked his
way through the mass of people.

9. (SBU) The thahan phraan who attended the gathering were
notable in their black fatigues. In general, thahan praan,
or rangers, are a paramilitary organization under the
leadership of the army, which usually provides commissioned
army officers to lead units. One thahan phraan told us he
was one of ten that had come down from Mae Sot, along the
Burma border, to provide protection for the red-shirts. In
contrast to the UDD guards who mingled with Thai police, the
thahan phraan around the outer perimeter stood apart from the
police. Seh Daeng claimed that 1,000 thahan phraan would
attend the protest, and thahan praan we spoke to also made
that claim. Media reports estimated that only about 200
rangers were present, however.
JOHN

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