Supporters of the Thai government gathered in the northern city of Chiang Mai on January 13 in opposition to the anti-government protesters in Bangkok who are trying to topple the government by bringing the city to a halt.
Chiang Mai the home province of the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the present PM, his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who many regard as his proxy. The government and Thaksin are very popular in Chiang Mai and many see the protests in Bangkok as undemocratic and worry that they will precipitate a military coup.
Protesters, known as Red Shirts, marched to the square of the Three Kings Monument, an iconic monument to the people of Chiang Mai because it represents the three kings who came together to plan the layout of the city.
Initially there were only a few speakers and supporters at the monument but at about 3.30pm crowds of chanting banner-waving supporters, many dressed in red, descended on the square from the north and the south.
Protest leaders then paid their respects at the monument before the crowd of well over a thousand people moved off to Changpuak Sports Stadium about a mile to the north. The police had sensibly banned traffic as the crowd filled the street and took over 45 minutes to walk past.
The atmosphere was raucous but good-natured. Many were shouting “Ow luak tang” which translates as we want to vote, whilst others were banging bits of bamboo.
Though there were many red banners there were also many Thai flags, which have been appropriated as a symbol by the anti-government protesters in Bangkok. These protesters were clearly demonstrating that those in Bangkok were not the only patriots.
It is clear that the protesters are very concerned that there will be a military coup and there were plenty of banners saying: “We don’t want a military coup.”
Amongst other messages on banners were ones that said: “Respect my vote,” and “People are all the same”.
The last one was a reply to Suthep, the leader of the anti-government movement, who had said that people from Bangkok were far more intelligent than those in the provinces and that one Bangkokian was worth 10 to 15 of them.
Many of the leaders and speakers also wore shirts saying “We Love the Police” to show that they do not want any trouble. It may also have been an attempt to keep the police on their side in face of possible army opposition.
Thaksin used to be a policeman and the police widely support him.
At Chanpuak Stadium the atmosphere was good-natured. There were plenty of stalls selling food, drinks and memorabilia such as Red Shirts and mugs adorned with Thaksin and PM Yingluk’s face.
The crowds streamed in and started to sit down in groups in front of the stage erected at one end.
Above the stage was a huge sign, which was replicated at other pro-government meetings being held round the country that day.
It said: “Stop the coup. Fight back against the terrorist.” This was a reference to Suthep who has branded himself as a terrorist fighting against an unjust government.
Then the speakers came on. The main speaker was the MP Sunai Julapongsatorn.
At the end of the rally all the speakers on stage and the protesters symbolically held up candles before planting them around the stadium as they left.