Black May (1992)
Black May, or Bloody May (Thai: พฤษภาทมิฬ; rtgs: Phruetsapha Thamin) is a common name for the 17–20 May 1992 popular protest in Bangkok against the government of General Suchinda Kraprayoon and the bloody military crackdown that followed. Up to 200,000 people demonstrated in central Bangkok at the height of the protests. The military crackdown resulted in 52 officially confirmed deaths, many disappearances, hundreds of injuries, and over 3,500 arrests. Many of those arrested were allegedly tortured.
On 23 February 1991, Army Commander Suchinda Kraprayoon overthrew the government of Chatichai Choonhavan. The coup-makers, who called themselves the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC), appointed Anand Panyarachun as prime minister. Anand's interim government promulgated a new constitution and scheduled parliamentary elections for 22 March 1992.
A government coalition with 55 percent of the lower house was formed and appointed General Suchinda as prime minister. Massive public protests immediately followed. On 9 May, Suchinda responded by saying he would support a constitutional amendment making individuals who had not been elected to parliament ineligible for the premiership. Tensions dissipated, but the truce was short-lived.
On 17 May 1992 the two leading government parties announced that, while they supported the constitutional amendment, they also favoured transitional clauses that would permit Suchinda to serve as prime minister for the term of the parliament. As it became clear the government parties would not honour their word, plans went ahead for a strike on Sunday, 17 May.
Obviously concerned about the people's mounting anger, the interior minister ordered provincial governors to prevent people from travelling to Bangkok to join the rally. Suchinda threatened to sack the governor of Bangkok for allegedly assisting the anti-government rallies of the previous week, while the army hastily arranged a competing "Anti-Drought Musical Festival" to be held at the Army Auditorium. Radio stations were banned from playing recordings by several popular singers who had voiced their support for the demonstrations.
Nevertheless, the rally was the biggest since the downfall of the Thanom regime in October 1973. At its peak, 200,000 people filled Sanam Luang, overflowing onto the encircling streets. At about 20:30, Chamlong Srimuang and Dr. San Hatthirat led the protesters on a two-kilometre march to Government House, to demand Suchinda's resignation. As they reached the intersection of Rachadamnoen and Rachadamnoen Nok Avenues, they were halted at Phan Fa Bridge, which had been barricaded with razor wire by the police. At 23:00 a group of demonstrators attempted to break through the barricade, but were repulsed by water cannons from four fire trucks blocking the way. The protesters then tried to commandeer one of the fire trucks, but were beaten back by riot police armed with batons. Protesters replied with stones and Molotov cocktails. Chamlong used a loudspeaker to urge the marchers not to attack the police, but his words were ignored. In this initial clash, about 100 protesters and 21 policemen were injured.
By midnight two fire engines had been set on fire, and the situation was spiralling out of control. Some 700 troops had been called in and the fighting fanned out from Phan Fa Bridge. At 00:30 Suchinda declared a state of emergency, making gatherings of more than ten persons illegal. The government urged people to go home. Hospitals in the area were already receiving the injured, including four with gunshot wounds who died that night. Chamlong remained near Phan Fa Bridge and the nearby Democracy Monument. About 04:00, soldiers threatened the nearly 40,000 protesters by firing M16 rifles into the air. An hour and a half later, they began firing again. By the morning, the army brought in more troops, and crowds grew larger in other sections of the city.
Early on the afternoon of 18 May, Suchinda publicly accused Chamlong of fomenting violence and defended the government’s use of force. Shortly thereafter, troops firing continuously in the air moved in to surround Chamlong. He was handcuffed and arrested.
The crowds, however, did not disperse, and violence escalated. After government troops secured the area around Phan Fa Bridge and the Democracy Monument, protests shifted to Ramkhamhaeng University in the east of the city. By the evening of 19 May, some 50,000 people had gathered there.
Early on the morning of 20 May, the popular Princess Sirindhorn addressed the country on television, calling for an end to the violence. Her appeal was rebroadcast throughout the day. That evening, her brother, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, broadcast a similar appeal.
Finally, at 21:30, a television broadcast of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Suchinda, and Chamlong was shown, in which the King demanded that the two men put an end to their confrontation and work together through parliamentary procedures. In the broadcast, the King addressed the two generals:
"The Nation belongs to everyone, not one or two specific people. The problems exist because we don't talk to each other and resolve them together. The problems arise from 'bloodthirstiness'. People can lose their minds when they resort to violence. Eventually, they don't know why they fight each other and what the problems they need to resolve are. They merely know that they must overcome each other and they must be the only winner. This no way leads to victory, but only danger. There will only be losers, only the losers. Those who confront each other will all be the losers. And the loser of the losers will be the Nation.... For what purpose are you telling yourself that you're the winner when you're standing upon the ruins and debris?".
Suchinda then released Chamlong and announced an amnesty for protesters. He also agreed to support an amendment requiring the prime minister to be elected. Chamlong asked the demonstrators to disperse, which they did. On 24 May 1992, Suchinda resigned as Prime Minister of Thailand.
The front page of the International Herald Tribune's 20 May 1992 issue was blacked out with felt tip pen, as was an editorial of the Bangkok Post of the same date, though other articles relating to the demonstrations remained untouched. The English-language newspaper The Nation and two Thai-language newspapers were shut down on 21 May though the order was rescinded a few hours later.
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The violence resulted in 52 officially acknowledged deaths, hundreds of injuries, and many disappearances. Over 3,500 people were arrested; hundreds of them were women and children. Many arrested claimed to have been tortured; some were beaten, left to sit in sweltering sunlight, soaked in gasoline and threatened with immolation, and left to go hungry.
A House of Representatives Special Committee and a fact-finding committee led by Sophon Rattanakorn shared the same conclusion: the government of General Suchinda used excessive force to crack down on the rally. Some facts from the investigation, such as names of military officers and military units responsible for rounding up, killing, and torturing of protesters were revealed to the public. It is believed these facts were recorded in the report of the Defense Ministry's Fact Finding Committee led by General Pichit Kullawanit, but it is still kept from the Thai public.
The military constitution of 1992 remained in place until 1997, when a replacement was drafted and promulgated.
Chamlong later apologized for his role in the events: "I wanted a peaceful rally," he said. "I can't deny some responsibility for the damage and loss of life. I feel deeply sorry for those families whose members were killed in the incident, for those people who were injured and their families." Nevertheless, he noted, "We were right in what we have done." He then retired from politics, eventually to return during the protests against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Suchinda was later appointed Chairman of Telecom Asia (today known as True), a company which received a concession to install two million telephone lines in Bangkok during the Anand government. Anand later became Chairman of Saha-Union Group, which had received an Independent Power Producer concession during his government.
- The 2010 Thai military crackdown dubbed Savage May by Thai media.
- David Murray. Angels and Devils. White Orchid Press (1996).
- Bangkok Post, May 17, 1992
- The Nation, May 16, 1992
- David van Praagh. Thailand's Struggle for Democracy. Holmes & Meier (1996).
- Duncan McCargo. Chamlong Srimuang and the New Thai Politics. Hurst & Co. (1997).
- พระราชดำรัสพระราชทานแก่พลเอก สุจินดา คราประยูร และพลตรี จำลอง ศรีเมือง วันพุธที่ ๒๐ พฤษภาคม พ.ศ. ๒๕๓๕ [A royal address given to General Suchinda Kraprayoon and Major General Chamlong Srimuang on Wednesday, 20 May 1992] (in Thai). Golden Jubilee Network. 1999. Retrieved 2013-12-07.
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- Black May 1992 — a brief timeline of Black May
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- Physicians for Human Rights, "Bloody May: Excessive Use of Lethal Force in Bangkok: The Events of May 17-20, 1992"