A few weeks ago, several hundred PAD supporters demonstrated in front of the US Embassy in Bangkok to protest Thaksin’s visit to America. They disagreed with the decision to allow a fugitive from the law a visa to enter the US. They were there several times but the demonstrations hardly hit the news. I don’t think there was anything in the Bangkok Post about it. Probably the only people to know about it were the ones stuck in traffic jams on Wireless Road.
Fast forward to Monday of this week. An urgent security message was sent out to American citizens. The embassy had been informed by the Royal Thai Police that a demonstration “involving several hundred people” was planned for the following afternoon. As a consequence, the embassy decided to close down at noon and send all non-essential personnel home. Why the security message this time and not before? Was it because the demonstrators were Muslims?
On the surface this seems to be an insult to all Thai-Muslims. I know there has been severe backlash to the video in Middle Eastern countries. The killing of Chris Stevens, the US envoy to Libya was unforgivable. But why treat all Muslims the same? All they wanted to do was hand in a letter of protest to the US Ambassador in Bangkok. As it turned out, there were only about 400 protesters in front of the US Embassy. According to some reports, there were far more police and media than protesters. The Nation described it as a “peaceful protest”.
I guess it is understandable to have closed the embassy in Bangkok as after all, you just don’t know. It could have been a lot worse. Embassy staff had to think about the safety of visitors to the embassy as well as their own staff. They have a right to close if they want to. However, another emergency message went out to US citizens last night. This time for a “possible gathering” at the US Consulate General in Chiang Mai this morning. The message said that they would close for the entire day. This is where I think it was going over the top. Only about a dozen or so Muslims turned up to submit a letter of protest to the consulate official. A letter! For a letter they closed the entire day.
Fortunately, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney has now come out to say that she is unworried by the situation in Thailand as the movement here is different from other countries and that both countries have long-established relations. She told MCOT that there is no need to issue a warning on safety concern for Americans living in the kingdom. She added that Thailand is a peaceful country and that she is confident with the security provided by the Thai authorities.
I am glad that both protests were peaceful and that the US Ambassador has now gone on record as recognizing that Muslims in Thailand are not the same as elsewhere.
What do you think? Was it an over-reaction and an insult to Thai-Muslims to close down the embassy and consul general or was it all justifiable?