Political tensions ran high in Thailand recently as supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and others stepped up protests against the government.
Day after day, thousands of red-clad demonstrators had taken to the streets against Abhisit Vejjajiva, the new prime minister, sometimes clashing violently with security forces. Over the weekend, they used a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held at a Thai beach resort to draw attention to their demands, and in so doing forced the postponement of talks on how the region should best deal with the global economic crisis.
The “red-shirts” are not the only Thai group that has proven willing to take to the streets in pursuit of political goals. In December, groups opposed to Mr. Thaksin seized 2 major airports in Bangkok, disrupting air service in and out of the country. The standoff eventually ended, but Thailand's key tourism industry was crippled for months.
The political divide goes beyond personalities, however. Many Thais are concerned about the role the judiciary has been playing in the nation's politics – Mr. Abhisit assumed office after a court decision removed Mr. Thaksin's allies from power – and there is widespread worry about the battered economy.
The United States urges Thais of all political persuasions to refrain from violence and respect the rule of law as they express their right to assemble and protest.