April 14, 2009 / 1:02 PM / 9 years ago

Street violence gives way to soakings in Bangkok

BANGKOK, April 14 (Reuters) - Young men and women near the epicentre of rowdy anti-government protests in Bangkok flung buckets of water at a truck full of passing troops on Tuesday in a show of exuberance for the Thai New Year.

It was a startling contrast to the frightening scenes on Monday, when hundreds of red-shirted protesters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at soldiers, who responded with volleys of gunfire.

But the protests drew to a peaceful end on Tuesday, and the Thai capital quickly returned to some semblance of normalcy during the Songkran festival, which people celebrate by thowing water on each other.

The three-day festival actually started on Monday, but the streets were tense. In the wake of the protests the government extended the Songkran holiday through to the weekend.

Roadside home-made soaking stations lined downtown sidewalks, children trained colourful pump waterguns at passing motorcycles, and teenagers squirted hoses at cars and in “tuk-tuk” taxis.

Revelers patrolled the streets in pickup trucks with waterguns, squirting anyone who looked like fair game.

“Now that the police are in control, we’re happy again,” said May, 21, a business student at Siam University who was soaked to the bone and had wet white powder spread on her face and hair, another Songkran tradition.

“The ‘red shirts’ were bad. They scared the whole country.”

Near Government House, where the red shirt-clad protesters had held demonstrations for three weeks, workers dismantled a makeshift stage and speaker platforms, and city public works crews swept up mountains of trash.

Troops in battle gear and police enforced checkpoints going in and out of the surrounding area, not taking any chances. Tow trucks dragged away the burnt out remains of buses demonstrators had torched when the troops approached.

It was a tough week for the military, forced to battle citizens at a major intersection in Bangkok two days after failing to protect a high-profile Asian summit.

Many looked relieved it was over, and ready to leave. A group of about 50 residents from a neighbourhood near Governnment House, where beleaguered Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has his offices, offered red and white roses to the troops in thanks.

“You can tell the city’s sort of shaken. Whatever side they support they all seem sort of embarrassed by what happened,” said Andy Turko, a 22-year-old tourist from Toronto, Canada.

“But everything’s turned out well,” he added.

As a child flung a ladle of water on his back, he turned and smiled: “It’s a tough day to walk around and try to do something serious.” (Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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