BANGKOK – BANGKOK (AP) — There's now more to Thailand's "Red Shirt" protesters than just red shirts.
Everything from baseball caps to flip-flops are being sold as part of a head-to-toe red wardrobe for anti-government protesters. Catchy pop tunes have been penned for the movement and new phrases have entered the Thai vernacular.
Behind the barricades in the middle of Bangkok, a whole red culture has emerged. Thousands of protesters have occupied the Thai capital's main shopping district for three weeks to demand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections. The government says it is determined to avoid more violence after deadly April 10 clashes and that there are too many protesters to clear, despite growing criticism that the time has come for a crackdown.
A fully functioning village has sprung up at the foot of luxury hotels and gleaming shopping malls, most of which are closed and losing millions of dollars due to the blockade. Protesters have everything they need, from food and entertainment to outdoor showers and a vast array of clothing.
"When I wear red I feel proud," said protester Daranee Parana, a 42-year-old rural housewife wearing a red hat, red scarf, red T-shirt, red shorts, noting she left her red sneakers and sunglasses at home. "It makes me feel strongly attached to democracy and I want everybody to see."
Entering the 1.8 square mile (3 square kilometers) protest area requires crossing a medieval-like barricade of bamboo spears that sets it apart from the bustling traffic of central Bangkok. Riot police and soldiers are posted outside to prevent more spillover, but it is red-shirted guards who direct traffic and help pedestrians into what could be called Bangkok's Red Zone.
Supporters dance to blaring music when they're not listening to fiery amplified speeches from leaders on makeshift stages. One of the most popular tunes is a foot-tapper called, "Love the Red Shirts."
"We remember the pain. We are not going to tolerate it," goes the song, driven by electric guitar and keyboard. "No we're not, because we are human beings — not water buffalos."
In Thai, calling someone a water buffalo is the rough equivalent of calling them stupid, but more insulting.
The song touches on the rural roots of the protest movement and the Reds' demands for greater equality in Thai society. The conflict has been characterized by many as a class struggle that pits the country's vast rural poor against an elite that has traditionally held power.
"The Red Shirts are patient," the song concludes. "We must be patient because our lives must move forward. You can hate us all you like, but don't support the thieves."
Thailand's seemingly endless political crisis revolves around ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted from power in a 2006 coup and is now living in exile to avoid a corruption conviction. The Reds support Thaksin, despite the corruption charges, because of his populist policies that catered to the poor. A rival group, known as the Yellow Shirts, staged protests that led to Thaksin's ouster and then followed up with rallies to remove two Thaskin-allied governments.
The Red Shirts believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted the two elected pro-Thaksin governments.
The crisis has divided Thai society and caused rifts in the police and armed forces, complicating the problem of clearing the streets but spawning several new phrases.
A "watermelon soldier" wears green on the outside but is red at heart.
A "pineapple soldier" leans to the opposite side — with a yellow interior.
A "tomato" is used to describe policemen — red outside and through to the core. Most police hail from rural Thailand and are believed to widely support Thaksin, a former police official.
The choice of words hint at the importance of good food to Thais. Curries, noodles, spicy papaya salad, chicken satay and other kebabs and a variety of sweets are sold inside the protest zone beside vendors selling souvenirs.
Aside from red clothing are convenience items: mobile phone chargers, ladies undergarments, slingshots — just in case.
One of the hottest selling items is flip-flops with Abhisit's face on the soles.
Carnival-like booths beckon protesters to knock down tin cans bearing Abhisit's face. Winners take home a red pillow with the slogan "Dissolve Parliament."
"This keeps us entertained, but the reason we're here is not to relax," said 40-year-old protester Worarjsra Gansaree, as her cousin shot Abhisit's face with a sling shot. "We want to fight for democracy."
On the Net: link to "Love the Red Shirts" song:
Associated Press Writer Thanayrat Doksone contributed to this report.