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Amid Bangkok's protests, a smattering of foreign faces

Source: Reuters - Wed, 15 Jan 2014 11:32 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Aubrey Belford

BANGKOK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - J├Ârgen Movérare considers himself a proud Swede. An avid skier, he enjoys his homeland's cold weather and is thankful for life in a stable, wealthy democracy.

But as an expat in Thailand of three years' standing, the 45-year-old has a different prescription for his adoptive home: a military coup, and soon.

"This sounds really stupid because I come from a democratic country (but) Thailand is not ready for democracy," he said at one of the protest sites that have shut down much of Bangkok.

As tens of thousands of Thais take over the streets of the capital in the latest push to unseat caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the protests have been marked, as they have throughout Thailand's multi-year political crisis, by a smattering of foreign faces.

Foreigners were a feature, too, when pro-Thaksin red shirts took over downtown Bangkok in 2010. After a bloody crackdown that killed more than 90 people, a Briton and Australian were arrested and briefly jailed. The Briton, Jeff Savage, caused a flurry of Internet interest - and conspiratorial mutterings - after an online video emerged of him calling for the destruction and looting of a shopping mall, which was later burned down after the crackdown.

While not nearly so dramatic, the latest round of protests has seen the participation of foreigners who feel they too have a stake in Thailand's future, earning a warm welcome from Thais who share their belief and the scorn of those who do not.

"I HAVE AN OPINION"

With a Thai-flag ribbon tied under the collar of his business shirt, Movérare, who owns a marketing company in Thailand, concedes that, strictly speaking, the current crisis is "not my fight."

The protesters have been calling for the overthrow of Yingluck, and the eradication of the political influence of her brother, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

They want to replace her with a hand-picked "people's council" to unravel Thaksin's grip on politics, in which he and his allies have won every democratic election this century - a feat his detractors claim is thanks to his buying of the votes of the country's uneducated rural masses.

Jan Plantenga, a retired Dutch banking consultant, has taken his involvement further. On Dec. 22, he took to one of Bangkok's protest stages to express his support for the movement.

On Monday, he was on stage for a second time, but was more cautious.

"I was on the stage again with my girlfriend but I didn't say anything because I was a bit worried about my visa," he told Reuters while sporting the red, white and blue Thai flag wrist bands, a symbol of the anti-government protest.

Some anti-government Thais appreciate the presence of foreigners at their protests, given the widespread perception that outsiders, and the international media, share little sympathy with a movement that openly questions the value of Western-style democracy.

"Most foreigners don't understand why we want reforms before an election, so it's good to see Westerners join our movement," Montree Noenthing, a protester from Nakorn Si Thammarat province in the country's south, told Reuters near a protest stage in Bangkok's Silom business district.

Other Thais are just bemused.

"(Foreigners) have nothing to do with this. This is about our country, it's about Thailand. The foreigners I've met at the rallies are completely clueless," said Anchalee Mekloy, 59, a housewife from Bangkok. (Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Jason Szep and Nick Macfie)

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