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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
Thailand looks back to 'Black May'
Scene from 1992 demonstrations
It is still not known how many were killed
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By Simon Ingram
In Bangkok

Friday marks the 10th anniversary of what the people of Thailand remember as the events of 'Black May', a popular uprising against military dictatorship that cost dozens of lives.

The traumatic events of May 1992 closed an ugly era in Thai politics.

After a succession of military coups and other upheavals, a chastened army finally retreated to its barracks and civilian politicians were at last given the chance to build a civil society based on laws rather than brute force.

Scene from 1992 protests
Demonstrators demanded change
But 10 years on, some are questioning whether the achievements of Black May were as real as they appeared.

Many questions remain about the precise events of those traumatic four days when huge crowds of students and peaceful protesters were fired on by troops in full battle gear on the streets of central Bangkok.

Even the final death toll is not known for sure and some relatives of those who went missing continue their long campaign for answers and an apology.

Hopes high

The reforms triggered by Black May were on the face of it far reaching - a new, liberal minded 1997 constitution helped foster a burgeoning civic society and a press freer than almost any in South East Asia.

Crooked politicians and businessmen found their unseemly dealings exposed and challenged as never before. Last year a new counter-corruption commission even investigated the personal financial affairs of Thailand's newly elected populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Today many wonder whether that investigation will prove the high water mark of a fledgling democracy.

Mr Thaksin, a billionaire businessman, has shown himself mistrustful of many of the country's democratic gains. His efforts to muzzle critical media comment and his seeming determination to trim the powers of the counter-corruption commission have set alarm bells ringing in liberal quarters.

So has his party's growing stranglehold on parliamentary life - observers suspect Mr Thaksin of wanting to replace the dictatorship of the army with that of parliament, much as Mahathir Mohamad has done in neighbouring Malaysia.

It may be early to pass judgement but to some the fading of Thailand's democratic prospects is already giving rise to a terrible possibility - that the victims of Black May could actually have died in vain.

See also:

09 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai parliament votes Thaksin as PM
03 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai PM acquitted in assets case
18 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai PM declares innocence
04 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai PM hits back at probe
03 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand's billionaire PM
03 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Thailand
03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Thailand
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