Further in, families lolled on plastic mats laid on the pavement damp with rain, seemingly unperturbed by the prospect of an imminent military onslaught. The deadline of a government ultimatum on protesters to leave had expired over an hour before, and a reported 30,000 troops were getting into position all around them.
Refusing to leave the protest site in Bangkok, scores of women with children have found shelter at the Wat Pathum Wanaram Buddhist temple, wedged between two ultramodern shopping malls. They idle on rattan mats amid sculptured hedges around saffron-robed monks.
“You have to understand that this is a nonviolent struggle,” a monk with thick glasses said in fluent English, speaking to me with his eyes closed as if delivering a sermon. “As monks we’re not allowed to take sides in politics,” he added. “We consider what we’re doing here as helping the needy and the powerless.”
Making martyrs out of these protesters may well be the undoing of the current Thai government.