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Coup #12

A senior army officer looks out towards protesters following an anti-coup demonstration at Bangkok’s Siam Square, 23rd May

“I took this [below] around midday at the Democracy Monument. I’d woken up, checked my Twitter, and rushed here because I saw that a grenade had exploded during the night and two anti-government protesters had been killed. When I arrived there was a big PDRC [People’s Democratic Reform Committee; opponents of the Shinawatra government] camp perhaps 500 metres away, and if you were to zoom out you’d see lots of PDRC members taking a look at the bloodstained ground. As well as the grenade attack there had been gunfire from a hotel across the road and 24 people had been wounded. The blood stains weren’t cleaned up for a long time.”

15th May – one week before the coup

“This is on Sukhumvit, a major road in Bangkok, and if you look closely you can see there’s no ammo in that gun. It’s as if they were just there for show. The soldier in the front seat looks asleep. This was the only sign of military presence I saw on the morning martial law was declared.”

20th May – two days before the coup

“The day of the actual coup was so weird. Two days earlier, the leaders of both the red-shirts [supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra and allies of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister] and the yellow-shirts [opponents of the Shinawatras] were asked to go to a clubhouse for top army officials. The media couldn’t get any access; the best we could hope for was a photo of generals driving past. After two days of waiting around and seeing nothing, I was fed up and considered not going for a third day, the day of the coup. It was funny because a lot of foreign journalists felt the same way and weren’t there when the coup actually happened, and they had to rush back. Nobody had any idea it was about to happen, but all of a sudden all these army trucks came out from everywhere. We had no idea what was going on. Eventually an army spokesperson invited us into this makeshift press conference room that you can see in the photo. We all set up our cameras, not knowing what to expect, and then a soldier said to us ‘watch the TV screen’. This is what we saw: that iconic image you get with almost every coup, the focused army general and his stern-looking aides in front of a bland background. That’s when we realised there had been a coup. It had happened less than a hundred yards from us but we only realised it when we watched it on television.”

22nd May – the day of the coup

“This is a Skytrain station near Siam Square. These anti-coup protesters are atypical; more middle class and educated than the average red-shirt. This is a generalisation, but you can normally gauge their background by how
well they speak English, and these people carried iPhones and spoke good English – the stereotypical red-shirt is rural, poor and not so well-educated.”

23rd May – the day after the coup

“This crowd had lots of A3 paper and were making signs in English and French, all really bad Google translations. These placards don’t make much sense. I think this crowd was more red-shirt, more working class. They were aware of the foreign press around so they were trying to get noticed. I’m of Sri Lankan origin and I couldn’t help but notice that the protesters were much more likely to try and get the attention of my more Western-looking colleagues. My white colleagues were hounded by Thais saying ‘you have to tell our story’, whereas I didn’t get that at all. Getting coverage in Western media was obviously more important to them.”

24th May – two days after the coup

“I only ever saw the soldiers act with restraint. They had guns, shields, batons, water cannons, but they didn’t use any of them unless they absolutely had to. They sometimes took a lot of personal abuse from the protesters. My local friends told me that what this guy was saying was really offensive.”

25th May – three days after the coup

“The army never stopped the media doing what we needed to do, although as time went on it seems they wanted to show a greater presence. We started having to ‘sign in’ and hand over a passport copy before we were allowed to work. They also started filming some of the journalists, which was a bit weird.”

26/5/2014 A Thai army officer asks media to stop taking photos following a Anti-Coup protest in Bangkok Thailand.

“This was a group of kids, rebellious teens, who spoke good English and they were grabbing pieces of paper and making signs and writing on their hands.”

“When you think of a military coup, you tend to think of army tanks rolling down the street to Government House, everybody at home quivering with fear. But it was nothing like that – people were out and about, and protesting openly. I call it ‘coup-lite’. Maybe it’s because they’re used to having coups – this is their 19th including seven failed attempts – but also I think it’s just their way of life. The Thais are a very relaxed people.”

28th May – six days after the coup


Asanka Brendon Ratnayake is a freelance photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. His work can be viewed at abrfoto.com.

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