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Don't move the cone

Publication Date : 16-05-2014

 

Bangkok moves according to its own idiosyncratic rhythm. Hawker-crammed sidewalks drive pedestrians onto elevated walking paths.

Small bricks are helpfully placed next to high kerbs to allow motorcyclists to zoom on footpaths.

And accident prone corners are turned into shrines filled with racks of clothes to appease the spirits who are deemed to reside in the area.

The latest talk of the town, however, are the ubiquitous traffic cones scattered all over the constantly clogged Thai capital.

The gruay, as they are called in Thai, are "immovable" and "holy" and so ignored at your own peril, according to the jokesmiths on social media.

One widely circulated picture of late has been a handwritten sign hung on traffic cone, declaring: 'Do not move the holy gruay". Another shows five men huddled around a cone, hands clasped in mock prayer.

There's a darker edge to the chuckles, and it's all got to do with the violence witnessed in the kingdom's six-month-long political crisis, triggered by - depending on which side you are on - a group of citizens trying to overthrow a corrupt and inept government, or the elite trying to impose its will on the electorate.

In any case, the country has been struggling without a House of Representatives since December 9, when snap polls were called. A February 2 election was sabotaged and a planned re-election on July 20 is now in doubt.

The "holy cones" in this case belong to the anti-government protesters roving around the capital for the past few months. Since last November, they have surrounded the Government House, or prime minister's office, as well as several government buildings. They have shut down several intersections simultaneously.

Last week, they rallied at several television stations and camped overnight to pressure the stations into giving their campaign better coverage.

Each time they move to a new location, they plant these orange cones to divert or even block traffic altogether.

Now, motorists in the city already have to deal with mind-numbingly low speeds at rush hour and so a few have inevitably tried to move the traffic cones. On several occasions, the security guards at these protest sites have responded with shocking violence.

Last month, for example, army colonel Witthawat Wattanakul was shot and roughed up, including with a wooden stick swung at his head, according to his mother Bang-onrat Wattanakul.

Protesters called it a "misunderstanding", claiming that the colonel was drunk, something that she denied.

In an angry press conference early this month, she rejected their 50,000-baht (US$1,539) compensation and demanded justice. Then she "thanked" the protesters for "merely beating up my son instead of murdering him and dumping his body into the river".

Last Friday night, as a driving rain hit Bangkok, Thanakrit Pinwiset, an ice deliveryman, accidentally knocked over a cone along Phaholyothin Road, where protesters were encamped to pressure Channel 5 TV station.

He was beaten up and stabbed in the lung, according to local media. His pregnant wife, who was in the passenger's seat, fled for her life. A protest leader later denied the movement's guards were responsible.

In their defence, protesters say people attempting to remove the cones get mistaken for ill-intentioned individuals who have in the past lobbed grenades at protest sites.

Their advice: Don't move the cones.

The savage attacks, however, are a grim reminder of the hazards involved when navigating a city in the middle of a long, bitter conflict.

 

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