BANGKOK, Thailand — Behind a wall of stone-faced soldiers, the crowd howled outside the gates of the Thai premier’s compound.

“We will curse them, the aristocrats, the powerful people,” screamed Nattawut Saikua, a leader of a That anti-establishment street faction known as the Red Shirts.

“We will curse them with our own blood!”

And with that, men balancing jugs of human blood on their heads hustled through the sweaty throng and into the compound. Troops in riot gear allowed several blood porters to reach the ornate front gate, and moments later, it was splashed with gallons of coagulated gore.

This was the crescendo to a long-awaited reckoning promised by the Red Shirts, whose anti-government crusade has become a conduit for class frustration.

For five days, more than 100,000 followers of the largely upcountry, working-class movement have rallied in Bangkok. They intend to drive out a ruling party that they claim caters to “aristocrats” and enforces “double standards” against the poor.

As expected, Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has not conceded to the Red Shirts’ calls for new elections. His party has instead deployed thousands of police and soldiers throughout the Thai capital.

To up the pressure, the Red Shirts have resorted to theater of the macabre.

On the evening preceding the blood curse, faction leaders requested 10 cubic centimeters of blood drawn from every healthy supporter. Their aim: 1 million cubic centimeters. The Thai Red Cross has objected, claiming that amount could save many lives.

But as dawn broke on Wednesday, the Red Shirts began an all-day needle drive that would instead donate blood to symbolic political targets.

To a soundtrack of soul-stirring Thai country music, Red Shirt leaders held syringes aloft for their faithful to see, shouting into microphones that “rule of the elites” would soon collapse. Each syringe was emptied into a plastic jug, swished around before a cheering crowd until it frothed pink at the sides.

“We’re not here to have fun or joke around. We’re not being caustic,” announced Veera Musikapong, an elder statesman of the Red Shirts. “We’re serious. And we shall take our blood, spilling it, spreading it into the soil beneath the prime minister’s compound gate!”

This blood curse can be traced back to Thailand’s 2006 military coup, the origin of the anti-elite faction’s outrage. That putsch deposed ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, an idol to many poor Thais despite his billions earned from telecom ventures.

Military leaders, and the current government, insisted his reign was incorrigibly corrupt. After military rule lifted, elections brought Thaksin’s political allies back to power — but they too were unseated two years ago under charges of vote-buying and graft.

The Red Shirts have coalesced Thais who feel the deck is stacked against them. They frame their ongoing rallies — including the blood-splashing campaign — as a “final battle” against a network of military top brass, connected politicians and advisers to Thailand’s royal family.

But while this message has gained momentum through their radio and satellite TV network, any effort to collapse the ruling party is unlikely to succeed anytime soon, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“We’ve had final showdowns before,” said Pavin, referring to last year’s attempted government ouster led by Red Shirts that descended into brief rioting “This is supposed to be the final of the final of the final. But each showdown keeps topping the next one.”

Protesters splashed government offices with human blood.
(Patrick Winn/GlobalPost)

Though free of outright violence, the blood curse campaign left government offices looking like the scene of a massacre.

After splashing white walls of the premier’s compound with blood, protesters marched to the ruling Democrat Party’s headquarters for the second act. Gallons more were emptied on the front steps until a chanting crowd stood in a sticky pool of red.

The remaining blood, leaders said, will be saved for an even bolder stunt: the blood-dousing of Abhisit’s well-guarded personal residence.

The Red Shirt leadership’s rhetoric has grown increasingly caustic. But they have so far prevented followers from stooping to police clashes or major property damage. The military has also shown restraint, replacing most soldiers’ assault rifles with batons and allowing protesters to claim parts of Bangkok as rally sites.

Security forces have even tolerated the blood curses, framed by Red Shirt leaders as a sacrifice symbolizing the toll extracted from Thailand’s have-nots. As their rally drags on, and numbers begin to dwindle, they have pleaded with followers to stick out this so-called “fight to the death.”

“I can accept death,” said Kit Somwut, a 62-year-old car salesman from Thailand’s Ayutthaya province. “We’re all ready to die for this. We are weaponless, but even if the soldiers come for us, we’ll fight back with peace so our grandchildren can know happiness in Thailand.”

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