CHIANG MAI — Military officers in Chiang Mai are scouring every market in the city to search for ‘red buffalo’ t-shirts they say are causing a conflict in society.
The controversial t-shirts depict a red buffalo stamping on a cockroach in a symbolic representation of Thailand’s rival political factions. Critics of the Redshirt movement commonly refer to its supporters as “buffalos,” a Thai idiom for “stupid people,” because many of the group’s members hail from Thailand’s rural North and Northeast. The opposing Yellowshirt faction is mostly composed of Bangkok-based middle and upper class elites.
The cockroach depicted on the t-shirt refers to Redshirts’ nickname for the Democrat Party, which is allied to the Yellowshirt movement. Redshirts commonly refer to the establishment-backed party as “the cockroach party” because it has been around for so long and “refuses to die.” The Democrat Party is the oldest political party in Thailand, although it has not won a national election for more than two decades.
Today, soldiers were dispatched to all of Chiang Mai city’s markets, including Ton Lam Yai market and Warorot market, to search clothes shops for the “offensive” t-shirts that have become popular among Redshirt activists in Chiang Mai province.
A leader of the local Redshirt group "Love Chiang Mai 51" said some Redshirts were told that the shirts violate the atmosphere of reconciliation imposed by the military junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The activist advised all Redshirt supporters to refrain from wearing the shirts for their own safety.
Since staging a coup on 22 May, the NCPO has harshly cracked down on the Redshirt movement, which supported the former government led by Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra. The junta has summoned and detained scores of politicians, activists, and academics, many of whom are seen as sympathetic to Redshirt causes. Those released from military custody have been forced to promise they will not participate in any political activities.
The crackdown has caused many Redshirt supporters to stop wearing their iconic red shirts or publicly express their loyalty to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms. Yingluck's brother and the Redshirt movement’s de facto leader.
Although military spokespersons have insisted that the junta treats all political groups in Thailand equally, Redshirt critics say the military's crackdown on freedom of expression has been disproportionately directed at supporters of their movement.
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