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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
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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)

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  • Enakshi Roy Chowdhury

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

Next Story

Tesla’s Musk Sued For Defamation

Musk urged a BuzzFeed reporter to "stop defending child rapists," and then said Unsworth spent decades in Thailand until moving to Chiang Rai.

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Elon Musk, tesla
Musk faces lawsuits for 'paedo' remark, Tesla tweet. (Wikimedia Commons)

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, was sued for defamation on Monday for falsely suggesting that a British caver who helped save 12 boys and their soccer coach from a Thailand cave in July was a pedophile and child rapist.

Vernon Unsworth sued over Musk’s reference to him in a July 15 tweet as a “pedo guy,” a comment for which Musk later apologized. The suit also claims that Musk called Unsworth a child rapist and sex trafficker in an Aug. 30 email to BuzzFeed News.

Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Musk and the company.

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Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. Wikimedia.

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeks at least $75,000 of compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitive damages.

The case adds to a slew of litigation against Musk, including over his running of Palo Alto, California-based Tesla, which the billionaire has said has caused him severe stress.

Unsworth became a target for Musk after cave rescuers rejected Musk’s offer of a mini-submarine created by his rocket company SpaceX to rescue the soccer team, which was finally freed after 18 days in the cave on July 10.

Though Unsworth told CNN three days later Musk’s offer was a “PR stunt” that had no chance of working and that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts,” he said that did not justify Musk’s use of Twitter and the media to defame him.

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Thai cave rescue: Extraction of remaining soccer team members

The July 15 tweet by Musk touted the mini-submarine and then, referring to Unsworth with a shorthand description of pedophile, said, “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”

Musk apologized on July 18, referring to Unsworth in saying “his actions against me do not justify my actions against him,” and that “the fault is mine and mine alone.”

But the complaint said that in the August 30 email, Musk urged a BuzzFeed reporter to “stop defending child rapists,” and then said Unsworth spent decades in Thailand until moving to Chiang Rai, “renowned for child sex-trafficking,” to take a 12-year-old bride.

Also Read: Elon Musk Apologises To UK Driver For Calling Him a ‘Pedo’

Unsworth said all of these accusations were false, and that the defamatory statements “were manufactured out of whole cloth by Musk out of a belief on his part that his wealth and stature allowed him to falsely accuse Mr. Unsworth with impunity” because he disagreed with him about the mini-submarine.

The case is Unsworth v Musk, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 18-08048. (VOA)