North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What's going on in Thailand?

"In this fight, defeat is defeat and victory is victory. There is no tie. There's no win-win. There's only win on one side," so said former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, one of the many anti-government leaders in Thailand who are not only opposed to the current government, but unhappy with the government announcement that new snap elections will be held February 2. According to a BBC article, demonstrators want to overthrow the current government before then.

What is going on?

Thailand, 67 million strong, is a country in Southeast Asia. Its capital, Bangkok is a major modern metropolis of over 10 million. Graphic from

According to an article in the NY Times, "... the protest movement, a highly motivated, emotional and idealistic group largely led by the middle and upper classes in Bangkok and residents of southern Thailand, appeared to enjoy considerable support. Among those casting their lot with the protesters were the union representing Thai Airways, the national carrier; an association of rural doctors; the union representing employees of state-owned companies; and an association of university rectors.

Other institutions were as divided as the country itself. Many professors and students at one of Thailand’s most prestigious universities, Chulalongkorn, vowed to support the protest by blocking access to a central commercial district. But others at the university said they were outraged that the protest sympathizers would claim to represent Chulalongkorn.

The protesters are driven by hatred of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon and former prime minister who is in self-exile overseas but wields great influence over the government. The protesters are passionately opposed to the family’s dominance in the country and believe that the elections will cement its hold on the political system. Disillusioned with electoral democracy, they want to replace Parliament with a “people’s council.”"

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Thailand is located on what used to be known as "Indochina" - the peninsula which contains Vietnam (88 million), Laos (6.6 million), Cambodia (nearly 15 million), Burma (nearly 53 million)and Malaysia (30 million). As the world knows, the Vietnam war in the 1950s through the mid seventies, devastated Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in various degrees. Graphic from

Thailand is a country that has had a long troubled political history. The region had long battled the neighboring Burmese kingdom, losing to the Burmese in 1767 (close in time to the US revolution) only to regain a more unified Thai kingdom in the 1790s, and known as the Kingdom of Siam, was strong enough to be the only country on the peninsula to avoid European colonization, over the next 140 years. Thailand was able to negotiate with Japan in World War II, avoiding that conflict by and large. Since then, the nation has vacillated fleetingly between a monarchy, a republic, and a democracy, punctuated with many longer bouts of military dictatorship.

In spite the uneven governance, Thailand has developed a major tourist industry (7 percent of the economy), which due to the current unrest has stagnated, tipping the economy into a contraction.

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Thailand's military has built itself into a regional power, aided by its pro-western stance during the cold war. Military leaders have governed Thailand multiple times in the past 70 years. Photo from

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At the same time, Thailand has nurtured a tourist industry built on beautiful beaches especially along its long southern peninsula (and unfortunately, a rather vast underground sex trade, with the city of Pattaya notable, but not unique - see map). Photo of facility in Phuket from

All of this is background to the current unrest
Drearily, the latest flareup may be merely another phase in an uneven series of governance changes. The current prime minister,

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Ms. Yingluck, 46, shown here greeting US President Barack Obama, has been Prime Minister (appointed by the King), and interestingly has a Masters degree from Kentucky State University . Photo from

Part of the current unrest lies in the fact that her brother Thaksin was formerly Thailand's Prime Minister, was overthrown in a military coup, and went into self-imposed exile after a court convicted him of abuse of power and corruption. The opposition maintains she remains in close touch with him, as does the Pheu Thai Party, which she heads. In other words, the same person who had been convicted and overthrown pulls strings or has undue influence behind the scenes.

Protestors have vowed to bring Bangkok to a standstill ... the military remains a looming presence ... a February 2 snap election which the government says will solve the issue, and protestors who as the opening sentence says is not the answer. Photo from

Former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, is in exile in Dubai, but many protestors believe he runs the country through his younger sister. Photo from AP

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86year old King Bhumibol Adulyade is in poor health, but that does not prevent a sizable portion of the opposition from suggesting he take the reins of power directly for some period of time. The King is also the world's longest reigning monarch. Photo from

So, many faces, strains of unrest, new cycles of frustration, and a growing sense of crisis in Thailand's capital city.

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