BANGKOK: Survivors of a deadly army crackdown in Thailand that killed more than 90 people were to observe the 10-year anniversary mostly in private on Tuesday amid a state of emergency prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2010 crackdown was a watershed moment in Thailand's polarised politics that pitted the royalist-military establishment against the "Red Shirt" movement of mostly rural and working class supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin supporters staged months of at times violent street protests in Bangkok in protest against a court ruling that dissolved a Thaksin-allied party that had won elections in 2008. Those elections restored democracy two years after the army staged a coup to remove Thaksin.
The standoff ended in a military operation that drove the Red Shirts from Bangkok’s prominent business and tourism district, killing more than 90 people, mostly civilians, and wounding hundreds.
Each year survivors and relatives hold commemorations, but this year’s events are expected to be subdued.
"We cannot yet organise a large-scale gathering to mark the anniversary because of the coronavirus ... but relatives of those who died will mark the occasion in various places," said Tida Tawornseth, a former chairwoman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the formal name of the Red Shirts.
She said she was not hopeful for justice under the current government led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who in 2014 overthrew a democratically elected government that had been led by Thakin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Prayuth’s pro-army party won elections last year that critics denounced as being manipulated by election regulations and court rulings.
"Many people in power today are figures involved in the conflict 10 years ago. They and the conservative groups are holding on to power," Tida said.
Prayuth and the courts have denied accusations of manipulating the election results.
This year, commemoration of the 2010 crackdown was joined by the youth-oriented Progressive Movement, which staged a light show last week calling for investigations into the decade-old deaths.
Prayuth declined to directly comment when asked by reporters about the light show, saying the country needs to unify to fight the coronavirus.
"The recovery for our country after this period requires cooperation from all sides," Prayuth told reporters. "Do not move on other things to create confusion and disorder."