Thailand: riots hamper church relief effort

Bishop Phibul Visitnonthachai

Bishop Phibul Visitnonthachai

Thai Church leaders have called for Catholics to be actively involved in relief work in Bangkok after the army stormed the main red-shirt protest site today. Bishop Phibul Visitnonthachai of Nakhon Sawan has asked Catholics to donate blood and visit people who have been injured. But relief efforts are being hindered by the security situation.

Despite the surrender of key leaders of the anti-government movement, riots and fires have continued in many parts of the city throughout the afternoon, as the government ordered a curfew.

“Now we can only urge people to pray for the country,” said the bishop, who heads the Thai bishops’ commission for the law and economy.

The red-shirt protesters, who say the government is illegitimate, have occupied large areas of central Bangkok for more than two months demanding that parliament be dissolved and new elections called.

The Thai Church leadership had planned to call Catholics for a mass prayer rally in the capital on Sunday, May 23, but Bishop Phibul says this may now be impossible.

In a statement the Church leaders have asked the faithful to pray the rosary for the dead and for the country every day for the rest of the year.

 “We call on all sides stop violence and cooperate to solve the political problems by love and forgiveness,” the statement said.

“We call for a return to dialogue to calm down the situation and resolve matters peacefully.”

Father Pipat Rungruangkanokkul, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, also expressed dismay at the renewed violence.

“The political unrest is claiming more and more dead and wounded. We demand a halt to all violent actions,” the priest said.

“Thais all want this situation to end peacefully.”

Meanwhile, 200 people of all religions, calling themselves the Solidarity for Peace network, gathered for a rally to pray for peace at the United Nations building in Bangkok today.

A message to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was read out and later presented to UN representatives.

“We call on government soldiers to stop using live ammunition and directly firing guns at protesters; and the [red shirts] to take a step back, cease all burning and retaliation attacks on government forces.”

Source: UCAN/ICN

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