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    Posted January 20, 2014 by
    Bangkok, Thailand
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Thai military declares coup

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    Campaign Calling For Peace Takes Hold Thailand

    Amid a darkening political outlook and fears of growing violence in Thailand, a peace campaign led by Thais who say they’re politically neutral is taking root.

    The campaign is marked by candlelight vigils and joined by Thais increasingly frustrated by the ongoing political conflicts bitterly dividing them. It has taken off across the country to call for an end to protests aimed at ousting the current government.

    “Thailand is no longer a livable place,” said Cheery Suttikoset, 50, the owner of a flower shop who joined a recent peace gathering in the Asoke area, close to an area where antigovernment rallies have been taking place for the past week.

    “Society is like an echo chamber of hate speech that only heightens the conflict. I came here because I want peace,” she said.

    The gathering in Asoke drew out several hundred people on Sunday, many of them dressed in white and holding banners that read, “Respect My Vote,” a reference to snap elections scheduled for Feb. 2. In contrast to the raucous demonstrations nearby, they held candles and sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

    Organizers say more vigils are planned this week.

    Antigovernment protesters have been rallying for months in a bid to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and call off elections scheduled for Feb. 2. They stepped up their efforts on Jan. 13 by blockading seven major intersections in business and commercial parts of Bangkok.

    Small explosions at those sites on Friday and Sunday injured dozens of protesters, clouding the festival-like atmosphere that had earlier accompanied the demonstrations. Security has been tightened around the rallies, but demonstrators say they have no plans to leave.

    Meanwhile, the candlelight peace vigils have spread, from Chiang Mai in the north to Pattani in the deep south. The gatherings don’t last long. Participants arrive to write banners, calling for peace and elections. Then they light candles to symbolize their support for non-confrontation.

    They say the gatherings are a direct, yet pacifist, challenge to the street demonstrations led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in the government preceding Ms. Yingluck’s.

    Mr. Suthep is pushing for Ms. Yingluck to step aside and allow an unelected people’s council to carry out reforms he says are needed to rid the current government of corruption and limit the power of the Shinawatra family.

    Mr. Suthep and his supporters accuse Ms. Yingluck of acting as a front for her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who served as prime minister until a military coup ousted him in 2006. He currently lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a corruption conviction he says is politically motivated.

    Ms. Yingluck has denied the accusations and has stood her ground in calling for elections, which opinion polls show she is likely to win. In an effort to draw lines, Mr. Suthep often says that he represents the voice of the people.

    Those joining the candlelight vigils say they’re out to prove that there are more than two sides to the political divide – supporters and opponents of Ms. Yingluck.

    “I’m here to make my voice heard and tell them that people like us exist,” said Oh Apitanipol, Ms. Cherry’s business partner at the flower shop.

    He and the others have also gathered despite concerns that their views will be ridiculed by the antigovernment protesters. Before the peace campaign picked up pace, many of those participating said they felt cowed into silence.

    I can’t tell my family that I’m here for the candle lighting, or it will become a family issue,” said Ms. Cherry, who has kept her political views from her relatives, many of who are already split over their support for the government.

    So far the candlelight vigils and have taken place without disruption. But demonstrators have accused some of those leading the peace campaign of siding with Ms. Yingluck by showing their support for upcoming elections.

    Wassana Thanaprochum, a communications officer at a company in Bangkok denies taking any side in the conflict.

    “We just want our voice to be respected,” she said.

    Ms. Wassana said the threat of violence has left many in fear of speaking out and sharing their opinions and worries that violence could increase if the rallies continue.

    That’s another reason the vigils are needed, said Jessada Denduangboripan, a professor at Chulalongkorn University who organized two separate gatherings on campus in early January.

    “After [violence] happens, we often look back and regret why we didn’t try to find a peaceful solution from the beginning,” said Mr. Jessada. “My standing point is very clear; I’m against a bloodbath and I will do whatever I can to oppose it.”

    1.Several hundred protesters gathered at a park in Bangkok on Jan. 19 to call for peace amid continued antigovernment protests. Wilawan Watcharasakwet/The Wall Street Journal
    2. Thais holding signs that read “respect our vote” rally at a park in Bangkok on Jan. 19. Some calling for an end to ongoing political conflicts in Thailand, say they support upcoming elections.Wilawan Watcharasakwet/The Wall Street Journal

    Source: The Wall Street Journal, South East Asia
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