Life on the ground in Bangkok right now is strange, to say the least.
Sunday's fatal public shooting of activist Suthin Tharathin marks the tenth fatality in what has become nearly three weeks of protests against the Thai government, centered here in the nation's capital. This most recent killing, which follows a number of explosions in the past few weeks that have injured dozens, underscores the inherent volatility of these protests.
But the movement, which is widely referred to here as Shutdown Bangkok, is many other things as well. It is well-organized. It is thorough in its programming, which features day-round talks, speeches, and public discussions. Much of it is family-friendly. And its blockade of city streets is selective and strategic, leaving the flow of day-to-day life relatively uninterrupted for much of Bangkok's population of eight million people.
The resulting vibe downtown feels highly charged (and, in certain neighborhoods, uneasy) but not overwhelmingly unsafe. And in many areas, all is calm.
It can be strange to see so many shoppers, joggers, and families intermingling with such a cohesive, widespread movement. The photos in the gallery below, all taken at sites of major protest activity over the past two weeks, attempt to capture this odd, tenuous moment.
Shutdown Bangkok marks a watershed moment in the fight between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin has spent the past five years traveling outside of the country in order to avoid the corruption conviction and jail sentence awaiting him back home. But he is also commonly believed to be exercising a continued influence over the government through his younger sister, the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Protesters want Yingluck to resign, and they overwhelmingly reject her call for a new round of elections on February 2. They have set up stages in nine areas downtown and closed at least 20 city roads, causing some significant traffic. They have been congregating at state agencies throughout the city in order to dissuade government workers from clocking in. And on Sunday they blocked access to scores of early-voting booths, forcing most to close.
On top of these more contentious moments, the Shutdown Bangkok protests are creating a drag on the national economy, with international investors thinking very cautiously about the next few weeks. Downtown, many bank branches are closing early or shutting their doors for days at a time. Hotel reservations in Bangkok are down by approximately 15 percent from the usual rate of bookings at this time of year.