Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Thai protesters snap up 'clappers'

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Bangkok

clackers for sale in Bangkok
Many protesters buy bulk-loads of these plastic hands
There are lots of things about Thailand's long-running anti-government protests to startle a casual visitor.

The toilet paper stalls that lead down to the tangle of plastic tents inside Government House, for example, or the free haircuts handed out to protesters beside its elegant steps.

But perhaps the most surreal hallmark of this political crisis is the craze known as "clapping hands".

Their noise rises from inside the government compound every few minutes - a sound somewhere between the chattering of insects and the clickety-clack of factory machines.

One for the man who betrayed the country, and one for my husband!

Buntheung, shopping for clappers

It is the sound of thousands of protesters waving the latest must-have accessory - hand-shaped plastic rattles, in lurid colours, which clatter loudly when shaken.

The stalls here sell them in every colour, big or small, tied with string to hang around your neck, or carrying slogans: "Clapper warrior!" "Clappers stop the evil!" "My wife is making me do this!"

Buntheung is shopping for a new one. "I already have two," she tells me, "one for the man who betrayed the country, and one for my husband!"

I ask her how effective they are. "Oh it works on the husband," she says.

And the country, which many people feel has been let down by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his brother-in-law, the current leader Somchai Wongsawat?

"We're almost there," she says.

The handy thing about the clapping hands is that they can be used to express either agreement or anger. The daily speeches from the main tent at Government House are punctuated with the rise and fall of the clapping hands.

Protesters, some of whom have been camped out here for months, wave them lazily or vigorously depending on who's speaking, and what's being said.

"When I like what they say I just wave it," says Chin-Noi. "It's easier than clapping my own hands. It's fun and it makes me happy. I use a lot of clapper."

New friends

In fact, there's a lot of clappers around these days - inside the protest camp and outside it.

Local businessman Pad-chang
If you have one, it means you support the protest
Local businessman Pad-chang
Lots of shoppers browsing the stalls outside the rally admitted to buying up several to give away as souvenirs.

One woman said she'd been bought dozens as presents. "I think they're cute," she said, "People keep asking me to bring some back for them - they're very cool."

Another shopper, businessman Pad-chang, had already bought up several bags of them, and was still browsing. "You have to test them first," he said earnestly, "not all of them make a good sound."

They're useful, he explained, because they stop your hands from hurting when you clap for too long.

"It's the easiest way to show your opinion. When you don't like someone or you disagree with them, you shake it in front of their face! But we use it as a greeting too - everyone in my office has clapping hands, and everyone uses it."

So who are the hands in his bag for?

"Ah," he says, "these are for the children of my customers in the south of the country. You can see it spreading to other provinces.

"I went to a Thaksin stronghold out in the country the other day, and a clerk in the bank waved his clapping hand at me, so I took mine from my pocket and waved it back. Now we're friends."

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