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1976 Massacre: Thailand to Mark 40th Anniversary of its Darkest Day

In 1976, the violence was seen as a backlash by right-wing groups and ultra-royalists after student protests of October 1973

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FILE - In this Oct. 6, 1976 file photo blood streaming down his face, a leftist student, center, wounded and captured by police is helped to an ambulance at the Thammasat University campus in Bangkok, Thailand. VOA

In Bangkok’s predawn light Thursday, activists and former students will give alms to Buddhist monks, an act of remembrance for the dozens of students killed and injured in a bloody massacre by right-wing thugs and authorities on October 6, 1976.

The events surrounding the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, seen by many as the darkest day in modern Thai political history, includes conferences, art works, plays and cultural events and come amid heightened political sensitivities in Thailand under a ruling military government since May 2014.

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Overall the military government is allowing most events to proceed, although under careful watch. But authorities at one of Bangkok’s international airports blocked the arrival Wednesday of Hong Kong democracy advocate Joshua Wong.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, shows the letter from Thailand Immigration office after arriving at Hong Kong airport from Bangkok, Oct. 5, 2016.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, shows the letter from Thailand Immigration office after arriving at Hong Kong airport from Bangkok, Oct. 5, 2016. VOA

Pandit Chanrochanakil, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the authorities’ move to block Wong from attending a conference was disappointing.

“This morning Thai authorities detained Joshua Wong, who was invited to give a talk at Chulalongkorn University tomorrow, which is so sad because he is someone people had been waiting to hear what we can do for the current situation for democratization,” Pandit said.

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Amnesty International said Wong’s detention highlighted the Thai Government’s willingness to suppress the right of freedom of expression. Amnesty added it also raised concerns over China’s influence over Thai authorities.

1976 massacre

In 1976, the violence was seen as a backlash by right-wing groups and ultra-royalists after student protests of October 1973 that had led to the overthrow of former military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn, who fled into exile. But students rallied again in 1976 to protest of Thanom’s return to the country.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the events for Thailand in 1976 came amid the conflict in Indo-China as the nation’s traditional institutions were challenged by the Cold War. “But it came at a high cost and the cost was the killing and maiming of many dozens of young men and women on the 6th of October at Thammsat University,” Thitinan said.

“It was a scar on the Thai collective psyche and at the time the leftist movement was initially an anti-military movement. But then it warped into a kind of anti-establishment movement because the establishment was seen siding with the military dictatorship from 1973 by letting in a military dictator,” he said.

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The brutality of the day has become etched in the public domain with the publishing of an Associated Press (AP) photo depicting a dead student hanging from a tree and being beaten while a crowd of onlookers watched.

Former student, Thongchai Winnichakul, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, told Thai media the events of 40 years ago continue to haunt him. “There’s not a single day that October 6 doesn’t cross my mind,” Thongchai said.

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Kraisak Choonhavan, a former senator and rights advocate, said the images had a profound impact on the global community. “This one area should be noted that after the violence the horrific shock that the world felt, how the opposition that was particularly young, was treated,” Kraisak said.

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 1976 file photo, police stand guard over leftist Thai students on a soccer field at Thammasat University, in Bangkok, Thailand. For some Thais, the bloody events of October 6, 1976 are still a nightmare. On that day, heavily armed s
FILE – In this Oct. 6, 1976 file photo, police stand guard over leftist Thai students on a soccer field at Thammasat University, in Bangkok, Thailand. For some Thais, the bloody events of October 6, 1976 are still a nightmare. On that day, heavily armed. VOA

Chris Baker, a commentator and writer on Thai history, says the 1976 events highlighted the coming together of conservatives in Thai society.

“Conservative figures in Thai society joined forces in a way they probably hadn’t done before in opposition to what they saw as a combination of not just the left wing, the students and the communists in the jungle, but also the new liberal side of Thai society in emerging politics,” Baker said, including a “frightened middle class.”

Baker says there are parallels between the events of 1976 and those leading up to the May 2014 coup and ouster of the populist government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.

“That moment is really very important now in retrospect because it’s very much the precursor of 2014, of the coup that we have just seen and which we are still living under, which in some ways it really does mirror and mimic many of the events and forces and underlying currents at that time,” he said.

He said in recent years the importance of the 1976 events have been played down but, “Since 2014 it’s been realized just how important and formative it was.”

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Analysts say Thailand’s political evolution appears caught in a cycle of elections to eventually see governments toppled by military takeovers.

The current government recently received public backing through a referendum for a new constitution, with promises of elections in late 2017.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference after his meeting with National Security Council as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan looks on at Government House in Bangkok, Aug. 15, 2016.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference after his meeting with National Security Council as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan looks on at Government House in Bangkok, Aug. 15, 2016. VOA

Chulongkorn University’s Pandit said not all Thais agree with the holding of commemorations, given the unsettling knowledge of the bloodshed 40 years ago.

“It’s hard to tell people that we have no other choice, we have to remember what we have done as a society,” he said.

“So for us, those who support the idea of commemoration, we believe that [remembering] the history of the October 6 massacre will teach us something, will give us some light to get out of the darkness,” he said. (VOA)

  • Enakshi Roy Chowdhury

    this was a tragic day… R.I.P. their soul

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Thailand’s Prime Minister Urge Residents of Bangkok to Wear Face Masks after Smog Cover Parts of Capital

He also asked the construction and manufacturing sectors to reduce activities that release pollutants

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Thailand, Prime Minister, Bangkok
A thick layer of smog covers Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, Thailandy, Sept. 30, 2019. VOA

Thailand’s prime minister urged residents of Bangkok to wear face masks on Monday after smog covered parts of the capital in what some fear is a harbinger of more pollution to come.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned in a statement on his Facebook page that the concentration of tiny dust particles called PM2.5 in the air had reached unsafe levels and said he has ordered government agencies to expedite anti-pollution measures. He also asked the construction and manufacturing sectors to reduce activities that release pollutants.

Smog levels are expected to stay high for the next two or three days.

The head of the country’s Pollution Control Department, Pralong Damrongthai, said the visibly dirty air was not caused by smoke originating from forest fires in Indonesia. Since last month, haze blown by monsoon winds from fires in Indonesia has affected nearby countries including the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and parts of southern Thailand, raising concerns about aviation safety and health.

Thailand, Prime Minister, Bangkok
Thailand’s prime minister urged residents of Bangkok to wear face masks on Monday after smog covered parts of the capital in what some fear is a harbinger of more pollution. Pixabay

Indonesian officials say they have made progress in containing the fires, including successful efforts at rainmaking, which they say reduced the number of fire “hotspots” from more than 5,000 about two weeks ago to 491 on Sunday.

Thailand’s Pralong told Thai PBS television that the problem in Bangkok is due to still air and high humidity becoming loaded with ultrafine dust from vehicle emissions, construction sites and other pollutants. He said it was then trapped close to the ground by a blanket of warm air in what meteorologists call an inversion.

Thailand’s government has set a safe level of 50 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, although other countries have lower limits. The Pollution Control Department’s website put Monday’s level as high as 79 micrograms.

PM2.5 particulates are small enough to be sucked deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, and can cause respiratory problems and may raise risks of cardiovascular disease and cancers.

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It’s the second time this year Bangkok has been blanketed with a cocktail of pollutants. Smog levels also spiked back in January.

Pralong acknowledged the pollution levels might shoot up again in January and February, during the dry season, when farmers burn fields to make way for new planting, another factor that contributes to the problem. He said his department and other units are preparing more stringent measures to better handle the problem than earlier this year.

As the noxious smog settled over Bangkok, many residents fished out masks from drawers and went about their business.

“A lot of my friends are saying they come to the office, their noses are running. Their eyes really hurt. All of them are really coughing today. It’s not normal anymore,” said Piyavathara Natthadana, an office worker who was wearing a mask.

Thailand, Prime Minister, Bangkok
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned in a statement on his Facebook page that the concentration of tiny dust particles called PM2.5 in the air had reached unsafe levels. Pixabay

“There’s not much we can do. We have to monitor the news and protect ourselves,” said Chakrapong Sanguanjit, another Bangkok resident walking downtown with a mask on.

Some environmentalists blamed the government for failing to act fast enough, despite being well aware of the issues.

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“The cause of the problem is the same. The sources of the pollution are the same. But measures to control the sources of pollution are not implemented yet because they said that takes time,” said Tara Buakamsri of the environmental group Greenpeace. (VOA)