Anti—government protesters who donated their own blood on Tuesday prepared to splatter gallons of it at the Thai government headquarters in a symbolic sacrifice to press their demands for new elections.
Hundreds of red—shirted demonstrators formed long lines to have their blood drawn by nurses, a day after their leaders vowed to collect 1 million cubic centimeters of blood - the equivalent of 1,000 standard soft drink bottles - to spill at Government House by Tuesday afternoon.
“If they want to throw it and have a photo opp and have us clean it up later, I think it’s fine,” government spokesman Panitan Watanayagorn, told foreign reporters. He said health authorities were looking into whether “throwing blood on the streets violates health measures.”
As many as 100,000 so—called Red Shirt protesters converged on Sunday on the Thai capital to demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, agree to dissolve parliament by midday Monday. Mr. Abhisit refused and blanketed the capital with security, but said his government was open to listening to what else the protesters had to say.
Police Gen. Wichai Sangprapai, said the number of demonstrators had dropped from Sunday, estimating that some 90,000 still remained in the capital.
Frustrated, the protest leaders announced the “blood sacrifice,” a tactic slammed by the Red Cross as wasteful - and unhygienic since diseases like hepatitis and HIV—AIDS can be spread if needles are reused.
“This blood belongs to fighters for democracy. What is its colour? Red!” an announcer shouted as protest leaders were having their blood drawn and stored in plastic water bottles on a stage near a white tent where lines of blood donors formed.
Several orange—robed Buddhist monks, who are forbidden by law from taking part in political activities, were among the first in line with one proudly showing off a syringe filled with his blood.
“I believe (in our leaders) and find their strategies rational and acceptable. If they say that we soldier on, I’m ready,” said Suriya Laemthong, 28, who admitted to a fear of needles and shielded his eyes with a baseball cap and hand as a nurse pricked his arm. But Suriya said he doubted that the blood spilling would compel the government to step down.
The Red Shirts include supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and other activists who oppose the 2006 military coup that ousted him for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They believe Mr. Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Mr. Thaksin’s popularity.
On Monday, thousands of protesters departed from their encampment in downtown Bangkok to besiege an army base on the edge of the capital where Mr. Abhisit has partly been based during the protests.
Mr. Abhisit told a nationwide television audience that his government would not step down in response to the protesters. He said the government would listen to the demonstrators.
Two soldiers were wounded on Monday by four grenades that exploded inside the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment, known as the King’s Own Bodyguard, army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. He did not blame Red Shirt demonstrators.
The protests have to date been remarkably peaceful although embassies have issued warnings to their nationals of possible violence and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell, cancelled a scheduled visit on Tuesday.
Panitan, the spokesman, said the majority of protesters appear to have peaceful intentions but authorities have identified about 3,000 people “with a history of violence” who have “embedded themselves in the protest” and split into about 10 groups. He said authorities are following them closely.
Protest organizers asked each demonstrator to donate between two and 20 teaspoons - 10 to 100 cubic centimeters - of blood. Their initial goal would be to collect 1,000 liters (264 gallons), which would require donations from between 10,000 and 100,000 people - roughly the protest crowd’s peak size.
They said more blood would be spilled at the headquarters of the ruling Democrat Party and the prime minister’s house if the protest demands were not met.
Dr. Ubonwon Charoonruangrit, a senior official of the Thai Red Cross Society, worried about the risks of untrained people drawing blood, and added that 1 million cc of blood could “save many lives.”
For a second straight day, Mr. Thaksin spoke to the demonstrators by video, urging them to continue their struggle in a nonviolent fashion.
Mr. Thaksin is a billionaire businessman who fled Thailand in 2008 ahead of a conviction on a conflict of interest charge for which he was sentenced to two years in jail.
Thailand has been in constant political turmoil since early 2006, when anti—Thaksin demonstrations began. In 2008, when Mr. Thaksin’s political allies came back to power for a year, his opponents occupied the prime minister’s office compound for three months and seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week.