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Protesters on Bangkok's streets switch from yellow to red

BANGKOK – Someone once said living in Thailand is like having a sports day every day. But instead of having five teams in five colorful jerseys compete the way Thais do in primary school, we only have yellow and red, sported respectively by anti- and pro-government protesters who take turns venting their angst in the streets.

The yellow-clad protesters, or the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), recently made themselves known internationally by blockading Bangkok airports. The country was forced to shut down its air links, leaving roughly 300,000 travelers stranded while damaging the country's economy. 

Image: Protestors in Thailand
Protesters attack a car coming out of parliament with rocks after the voting for the country's new prime minister in Bangkok, Thailand on  Dec. 15. 

But just as the yellows protesters left the streets, and the new prime minister – the third in half a year – was named by parliament on Monday, the protesters in red shirts showed up. 

Red protesters
The protesters in red shirts are formally known as the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), but are better known as staunch supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

DAAD emerged after Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006. They have campaigned against military interference in politics and the military-drafted constitution, while the yellows have repeatedly called for the army to take control of the divisive country.

The reds sometimes choose to stage a rally close to the yellows' venue, provoking angry confrontations. The last couple of months saw some gang-style clashes that involved knives, golf clubs, homemade bombs, and guns in Bangkok and other cities, including a recent shooting on Bangkok highway.

Like its counterpart, DAAD has cultivated supporters over the years through its own satellite television channel, and talk show, "Truth Today," on state-run TV. "Truth Today" presenters are a former government spokesman and members of the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party.

When the yellows' airport siege ended with a court ruling on Dec. 2 that dissolved the ruling People's Power Party and handed a five-year political ban to former premier Somchai Wongsawat, who is Thaksin's brother-in-law – the reds took up the protesting mantle once again.

DAAD leaders accused the military of masterminding the formation of the new government and of pressuring Thaksin's allies to back the opposition party – a move that they called "silent coup" or "coup in disguise."

Protest déjà vu     

As legislators met to elect the new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the parliament on Monday morning, dozens of red-shirted protesters tried to block access and threw stones and objects at vehicles leaving the parliament. Lawmakers in rural provinces also experienced house blockades and received threats and funeral wreaths in front of their residences.  

So this could be the beginning, or, more precisely, the return, of more protests.

 "We won't cause a problem if we continue to protest," said a middle-aged man at a rally on Saturday. "Because we won't close airports like the PAD. We're not crazy. We just exercise our constitutional rights."

His smile was so earnest, I was almost sold.

But then my thoughts wandered back to the days of the yellow-clad protesters. They also had reassuring smiles and said the same thing about exercising one's rights and respecting others.

Perhaps the reds and the yellows have more things in common than they would admit.