THE end of the street demonstrations in Bangkok against the Thai government may be the beginning of a much more serious and widespread phase of unrest in the country. In the final stages of the Red Shirt protests in favour of an early election the mood changed from one of patient determination, summed up by the banner “Peaceful Protesters, Not Terrorists”, to anger at failure in the face of the government's use of force. One of the Red Shirt leaders, Jtuporn Prompan, pleaded with his followers, “Listen to me. Listen to me. We have to end this now” -- but they refused to heed him and instead set about rioting, looting and burning in several parts of Bangkok. There are suggestions that the initially peaceful protesters were infiltrated in later stages by armed militants.

The Red Shirts, without their four leaders who surrendered to stop the fighting and killing will return home to the northeast of Thailand to lick their wounds and consider their next steps. They will have to consider whether to resume their protests in a different and more radical way in the near future or concentrate their efforts on preparing for the democratic election they want at the end of next year. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vejjajiva can reflect on an engagement won but a war that may still have to be fought.